Reflections from Vienna Monuments to Statues to Sir John A and Residential Schools

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I have just visited memorials commemorating the successful defense of Vienna in 1638. The Turks were at the city gate and undermining the wall. They were just a few days away from plundering the city when the cavalry arrived, contingents from Poland, Cossacks from the Ukraine among many others, warriors from the Christian nations assembled by the emperor of Poland.

And it reminded me that all the tribes of humans have been conquering, pillaging and plundering each other for thousands of years. And that includes the tribes of the First Nations, the Ojibway, the Mohawk, the Sioux and all the others. And conquering meant, beside pillaging and plundering, killing or enslaving the men and boys and raping and/or assuming ownership of the girls and women.

It had been the way of mankind for centuries, and, here and there it seems, it still is.

During John A. McDonald’s lifetime the Americans to the south were still sending out the cavalry to kill as many Indians as they could. (the official policy was “removal” but that usually meant massacre)

In Canada the conquering had taken place by the British and French, with some killing and plundering but also with a number of treaties. Now what to do with the conquered, the many scattered tribes, the people we now refer to as First Nations?

If history were to guide it would tell us the conquering should continue, killing and enslavement of the males, the rape and enslavement of the females.

But John A. and others in the newly formed Canada decided on a different plan. They would round up all the Indian children and send them to boarding schools while leaving the adults to hunt and gather, fish and farm, on land set aside for them. The plan may have been to “take the Indian out of the child” along with learning English or French and a bit of arithmetic, and it proved to be not so great an idea, especially letting the church run the program, but all in all, considering historic precedent, including the way a conquering aboriginal tribe treated a conquered aboriginal tribe, was not this idea really a quantum leap forward? I mean compared to all we know of the ways of human tribes throughout history?

I am not suggesting we raise new statues of John A. McDonald, but those we have deserve to remain. We now view residential schools as a destructive force, destructive to family and culture, but for John McDonald, it was not just a reasonable decision for the time, but a big step forward.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections from Vienna Monuments to Statues to Sir John A and Residential Schools

  1. and as I go to look for statue pictures for this entry…Victoria is removing John , I see one drenched in red. defacement by tags and Vienna is not accepting a statue of thanks to the pole , Jan III Sobieski, who saved them is 1683. history seems to be a good cause to divide over.

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  2. Good article. Lest we forget the good the bad and the indifferent Let’s keep the statues and tell the history. Topple statues and history tends to be forgotten and stifled Out of sight out of mind Churches and their sexual crimes are now being brought up.

    Kingston had its Anglican crisis a few years back, and it cost their institutions as well it blighted the lives of many choir boys.

    Politicians fail us some more than others. Churches which preach how to be good have also fail us.

    Money was said to be the root of all evil. It would appear that devious/ frustrated sex is more than the big runner up in the nasty stakes. Onward and upward. And Herr Freud muddied the waters on this subject !

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  3. I can’t agree that John A. MacDonald is somehow an okay racist because he didn’t set out to murder people. The fact is his policy DID kill children who died of malnutrition and neglect and abuse in the schools. He thought Native people were “savages”, lesser than the civilized British, and he intended to conquer them by assimilation. Yes, that was a common sentiment at the time. Now we know better and know it wasn’t right. I’m not sure we have all the right answers either. At Gore Park in downtown Hamilton there are statues of Queen Victoria and John A. MacDonald. To me they represent the age of colonialism, and transition from colonialism to self rule. Should the statues come down? No. We are the product of history and cannot erase it. Neither can we demand post facto that our heroes be shaped in our modern mold — otherwise only Superman would rate. Let the statues stay, and let us learn the lessons of a history that is complicated and very human. Perhaps it’s time to raise a statue of Tecumseh? White history is not the only history of this land.

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