The Consolations of Ignorance

If you drive down Victoria’s Pandora Avenue this what you will see:

img-0-3462152-jpgYou might think that this image of a couple of the literally hundreds of homeless people would drive Victoria City Council to action. (And it has to some degree – a few years ago City Council was looking at banning boulevard camping.)

However, faced with an intractable problem which is only growing worse, City Council decided to clean up another blight on Pandora, this:


It appears that the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald is offensive to First Nations and that Victoria’s “City Family” (not a task force you understand) want it removed in the interests of “reconciliation”. Sir John’s great sin was a belief that the assimilation of Canada’s First Nations was the appropriate goal for government policy. This goal has now been recast as “cultural genocide” and who would want a statue of a genocidaire near a public building? The Times Colonist has a surprisingly well balanced story on the question.

I have no great fondness for Sir John and it is not a statue of striking artistic merit but I wonder if removing statues of historical figures for contemporary political reasons isn’t simply an empty gesture in the face of an inability to actually face real issues.

The mighty City Council of Victoria may think it can atone for the sins, real and imagined, of the Victorians’ belief in assimilation by consigning Sir John’s statue to a sub-basement. But that does less than nothing for the many First Nation’s people who are up the street “boulevard camping”.

There is hard work to be done on First Nations’ issues. Removing statues and renaming schools and bridges is not that work. Walking three blocks up Pandora and thinking very hard about the issues which send hundreds of people, including First Nations people, “boulevard camping” is the beginning of that work.

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21 thoughts on “The Consolations of Ignorance

  1. Neil Wilson says:

    I find this kind of revisionism abhorrent. MacDonald was in fact “enlightened by the standards of his time.”

    MacDonald is known to have said the following in the House of Commons in 1872, ”We cannot allow them to die for want of food. [We] are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”

    But, when Macdonald made his infamous remark, it was during a debate on government spending and made in response to a question by Liberal MP David Mills (who later served as Justice minister in the Laurier government and then on the Supreme Court of Canada). While protesting the cost of food rations, Mills warned, “… a barbarous population like the Indians may very easily be made wholly dependent upon the government … to the extent … that it will be very difficult to induce the Indians to devote themselves to industrial pursuits.” To which Macdonald also said, “In the case of apprehended famine the matter is to be dealt with on the spot … When the Indians have been starving they have been helped.” In other words, MacDonald made the remarks in defence of his position for helping the Indians

    At a time when Canada was overwhelmingly and overtly racist against Indigenous peoples, Macdonald offered to extend the vote to Indians. One Liberal MP said it would be like bringing a scalping party to the poll; another that it was an insult to place white brethren “on a level with pagan and barbarian Indians.” Liberals also feared that Macdonald would get most of the “Indian vote.”

    • Jay Currie says:

      Frankly, I don’t even credit Victoria City Council with “revisionism”. I think this is nothing more than ignorant virtue signalling as a substitute for effective action.

      Your points on Sir John are well taken.

  2. Terry Rudden says:

    “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

    – John A. MacDonald, House of Commons, Debates, 46 Vict. (May 9, 1883) 14: 1107-1108

  3. Jay Currie says:

    I was aware of the quote Terry, and several others.

    So here is a question: if you look at the current situation of our Aboriginal people as a whole, can you say Sir John was wrong? It is not as if the vast majority of our First Nations people are thriving. There are bright spots. And, in fact, I spent a week recently in the Yukon where First Nations are, in fact, thriving. But they are thriving because they have jobs and because the Yukon Government, the various companies operating in the Yukon and the First Nations themselves have embraced the idea that being part of an economic boom is actually a good thing all round.

    But if you walk down Pandora you see dozens, if not hundreds, of First Nations people who are entirely lost in the modern world. So lost that they are camping on the sidewalk. Now you also see large numbers of non-Native people doing the same thing.

    Taking down Sir John’s statue is not actually helping anyone. It is pretending that what someone said 133 years ago, in an effort to help the Indians, as they were then, is such an affront that it cannot stand. I think this is delusional. And it provides an excuse for not addressing the very real problems the people up the street have.

    • Cytotoxic says:

      Did it ever occur to you that ripping children from their parents and sending them to be abused at government schools might have something to do with their current problems?

      • Jay Currie says:

        Obviously. But taking down a statue is a gesture rather than any sort of even partial solution.

        What annoys me about that gesture is that it obliterates, rather than contextualizing, the past. It is all about appearance rather than substance.

        What might be more useful is to leave the statue in place and provide the information which surrounds Sir John A. and the actual intent of the residential schools. The fact that residential schools were a horrible failure grounded in good intentions is a very useful lesson.

  4. Terry Rudden says:

    I’m glad you’re aware of the quote, and of others in the same vein. So you presumably understand why the statue may be repugnant to some Indigenous Canadians. Without disparaging Sir John’s inarguable merits and achievements, and fully recognizing that he was, like all of us, a man of times, and heir to both his era’s assumptions and the real political pressures of his office, he is nonetheless an early proponent of the cultural extinction movement that Stephen even Harper acknowledged as wrong (not to mention ineffective).

    Your comments on the Yukon sound a bit surprised at the notion of Indigenous Canadians embracing economic growth. I’ve found that most do, as individuals, as communities, and as aggregates of individual first nations (tribal councils, regional Inuit associations, and so on.) Paleoconservative oil company shills like Ezra Levant and Sheila Gunn Reid like to mock indigenous attitudes toward resource development as a proto-hippy faux-Rousseau sham. That’s because the FNs tend to be pretty tough negotiators when it comes to rights of entry and access, development, community employment and training, equity, adherence to environmental standards, remediation, impact on local infrastructure and so on; I think Ezra is pining on behalf of his sponsors for the days when you could just walk in and take the land your wanted. But in the real world, you won’t find many FNs or Inuit communities opposing development these days; you WILL see them requiring those kind of impact benefit agreements.

    And yep, any downtown in North America will show you a large number of people lost in the modern world, and many of them will be indigenous. We’ve figured out that forced eradication of their communities and languages and cultures doesn’t facilitate the transition, as Sir John believed. What does? Time plus investment in indigenous education and increased mobility, both of which are happening, and creating a very savvy, very politicized new generation of leaders and communities.

    And no, tearing down a statue of John A. doesn’t alleviate poverty or achieve equity. And personally quite admire the man. But like any silly, grand gesture, it provides a focal point for social action that gets headlines and promotes awareness of bigger needs and issues. Maybe.

  5. Jay Currie says:

    Terry, it was my second visit to the Yukon and I was not surprised at all. In fact, having spent the visits in the Yukon and seeing how well the FN/Government/Business agreements work I was very encouraged.

    If I thought that taking down Sir John A’s statue would actually lead to better outcomes for the indigenous people up the street I would be all for it. Unfortunately, I see no evidence of that. Rather it appears to be a silly and rather trivial gesture which will achieve headlines for a day and a half and then disappear.

    Sir John A. may have been misguided as to possible solutions to FN issues but he at least recognized the magnitude of the problem and accepted responsibility for attempting its solution. A hundred years of essential failure later we need actual solutions rather than cack handed gestures.

  6. Terry Rudden says:

    If the alternatives were (a) remove the statue of Sir John A. from its pedestal in Victoria, OR (b) fund implementation of the RCAP final recommendations, I’d certainly vote (b). However, those options are not mutually exclusive; and responding to an advocacy initiative which opened eyes less familiar with Sir John’s assimilationism than your own does not prelude initiatives leading to “better outcome for the indigenous people up the street”. It may just make the street a little less annoying for them.

  7. Dwayne says:

    Try as you might, you can’t alter history. Also, there will be no reconciliation with the North American aboriginals as they want “white colonists” to just leave. That is never going to happen, but the virtue signalling lefties will try and appease the cry babies. I would venture to guess that 90% of Victoria’s couldn’t tell you who the statue was without looking at the plaque anyway. Just some guy on the money, if they even remember what money looks like today.

    Someone with some balls needs to just shut down this stupidity and move on. It isn’t like the NA aboriginals actually sprang from the earth here either. Science says they migrated over time, and so they are colonizers, just earlier ones. As someone once said, they walked and stagnated in the stone age while Europeans came over on ships with technological advances that the American populations couldn’t even imagine. Again, it is history, and can’t be altered. It happened, and I don’t feel sorry for it, not for one minute.

    Just out of curiosity I looked it up, there are some 198 “first nations” in BC. Calling these clans or tribes “nations” elevates them to a spot they don’t deserve, nor have earned. So, stop treating them like nations, give them a bucket of cash, and call it over, for crying out loud. Land claims in BC are well over 100% of the land, and will never be settled since they can’t agree on which family group really was in which area anyway!

    • Terry Rudden says:

      Hope you don’t mind if i do this line by line, Dwayne, but you’ve raised quite a few points.

      “Try as you might, you can’t alter history.”

      Correct. But you can add new information and greater depth to our picture of historical events and people, and that, in turn, may alter the way they’re perceived.

      “There will be no reconciliation with the North American aboriginals as they want “white colonists” to just leave.”

      That’s a pretty big group of people you’re talking about, Dwayne, and I haven’t actually found that to be the case. In my experience, the vast majority of Canadian and Central American indigenous peoples (my experience working with tribal groups in the USA is very limited) have no desire for the European and other settler gro9ups to “leave” at all, although they wish that the colonization process had occurred differently, and that the various numbered treaties and modern Land Claims settlements had negotiated and implemented in better faith. Aside from the most polemical statements by the most radical hotheads at their angriest moments, do you have something to back up your suggestions that “North American aboriginals” want us “to just leave”?

      I’m sorry you don’t like the notion that long term land use and occupancy are held in British, Canadian and international law to confer Aboriginal title. But they are. So I’m afraid you don’t get to “give them a bucket of cash”; most First Nations and Inuit prefer to hang on to their land base, and negotiate mutually beneficial agreements with Canada for rights of entry, access, transit, development, and so on.

      • Jay Currie says:

        Terry, I agree with you as to providing more and better information.

        If ever there was an argument against social engineering (for the best of reasons as they were then understood) it was the residential school system. From which we can learn a lot about the evil of good intentions, the law of unintended consequences and the necessity of scepticism in the face of received opinion. All useful lessons.

        A plaque to the side of the statue with something like, “This was a good man who founded our nation but failed to understand its First Nations and their needs. A man who acted with the very best of intentions and got it horribly wrong. A man who took the best advice of his day and failed to question it. A great man but a flawed man.” and then a bunch of balanced history would do a great deal more good than popping the statue in a storage facility.

        You do not have to defend or exonerate the residential school system and its results to understand that its motivations were honest and moral for their time.

        If you are looking for truth and reconciliation I think you need to begin with the good faith, if uninformed faith, of the men who were trying to build a path for the First Nations into Canada. They failed horribly, but the intent was not evil, the result was. (As are so many attempts to engineer people – it is tough to think of one which has ever worked.)

        As we often are Terry, we are on very similar pages of slightly different editions of the same book. Which is what makes this fun and interesting.

  8. Dwayne says:

    Every treaty, from here forward needs this:

    “Perceiving themselves as pragmatists rather than purists, members of the Gwich’in Tribal Council agreed in 1992 to “cede, release and surrender to Her Majesty in the Right of Canada all their Aboriginal claims, rights, titles and interests” to “lands and waters anywhere within Canada.” The agreement also includes a clause “to indemnify and forever save harmless” the Canadian government from all future Gwich’in actions, suits and claims of Crown liability.

    In return for sanctioning this sweeping language, the Gwich’in are to receive approximately $73 million. Moreover, their communities receive “Gwich’in title” to about 22,000 km2, about one-quarter of which includes subsurface mineral rights.”

    There is the bucket of money and some land, in return Canadians get some closure. And one day they can shut down the department of whatever the hell Trudeau wants to call it today, and welcome all the first walkers into the 21st century, taxpaying responsibility and all.

    • Terry Rudden says:

      Extinction clauses were common in the so-called “Numbered Treaties’, signed until about 1921. The goal of the Crown was to create an indisputable legal foundation under British Law for expansion and development, to eliminate the Indigenous land base, and to expedite assimilation. As you probably know, in several cases, treaties covering huge territories were signed with whatever leaders showed up at the negotiations and agreed, but were held by the Crown to be binding on the whole range of First Nations in the Territory. Several were not translated into the language of the negotiating First Nations; some had place holder sections where the Crown’s obligations were to be added afterward. But they all included the kind of clause you cite, in which ALL title and future claims were surrendered, lands and all attendant rights are ceded in perpetuity.

      The Gwich’in Agreement is a Land Claims Agreement, or “modern treaty”, like the Nunavut, James Bay Cree, Nunatsiavut and Inuvialuit agreements. As you correctly point out, they provide quite a bit more than just a pot of money and final sign-off on all future rights. What those agreements all have in common is a set of benefits in return for surrender of title to the FULL claim area.
      – The Gwich’in, like the Inuit and Cree, surrender most of their land, but retain a permanent land base, including surface and, in some areas, subsurface rights.
      – The negotiated right to self-government, in which they take over a negotiated set of governance authorities from the provincial and federal governments. (Not the case in Nunavut, where there was no need; it’s a public government, but with an 85% Inuit majority in the territory.
      – Resource revenues sharing agreements on development in the settlement area.
      – Ongoing right to harvest, hunt, trap and fish on Crown Land.

      One more note about “taxpayers” – are you under the impression Indigenous people don’t pay tax?

      • Dwayne says:

        I can google, and know that aboriginal people pay taxes in many situations. The exemptions are narrow and apply to status people on reserves. But this is the 21st century and it is time to conclude all the hand holding and “protection” of the native population, as well as the old special exemptions and benefits promised by the Crown hundreds of years ago.

        There is nothing wrong with the expectation of negotiating fair compensation and providing reasonable land and cash restitution and then removing special exemptions and treatment. In fact, this is the best thing for our nation because it will finally allow the government to close down a department of government that is, to me, useless and self serving. There is no incentive for the newly re-minted Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada departments to settle all the claims and dissolve and put themselves out of work. The longer this goes on, the longer the bureaucracy gets paid.

        There is nothing wrong with recognizing that people were here in North America before Europeans came over through their own exploration and expansion. But that was in the past, and it will not, and can not, change. All we can do is move forward in an equitable, but reasonable fashion, and progress. It isn’t as though we can remove all the building, technological progress and benefits, and past development.

    • Terry Rudden says:

      Just to add to my previous response – I’m not as familiar with the Gwich;in Agreement as I am with the northern ones, but I believe they’re also retained the right to participate in resource management, land-use planning, and similar areas through membership in co-management Boards with the feds and provinces.

  9. Terry Rudden says:

    “It is time to conclude all the hand holding and “protection” of the native population, as well as the old special exemptions and benefits promised by the Crown hundreds of years ago.”

    No, not really. That would require that the Crown renege on its agreements vis a vis rights of entry, access, development and transit over Indigenous lands. I don’t think that’s an option; “the Honour of the Crown” remains one of the paramount considerations in governance.

    “There is nothing wrong with the expectation of negotiating fair compensation and providing reasonable land and cash restitution and then removing special exemptions and treatment.”

    Agreed. And if Canada and a given treaty holder mutually agree to such a process, it should proceed. And certainly the current Land Claims Agreements allow for such an option. However, there is very little interest among most First Nations in surrendering their final land holdings.

    “it will finally allow the government to close down a department of government that is, to me, useless and self serving.”

    A lot of FN and Inuit leaders would agree with you, but for different reasons. Some Conservatives see the closure of whatever INAC is called this week as a stage in assimilation, the elimination of Aboriginal title, and so on…the “one big payoff and then we’ll be rid of them” school of thought. Indigenous groups see INAC as a barrier to the negotiation of structures for increased self determination, and linkages that more closely approximate nation to nation relationships.

    ‘All we can do is move forward in an equitable, but reasonable fashion, and progress. It isn’t as though we can remove all the building, technological progress and benefits, and past development.”

    Quite correct. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that can or should happen. Similarly, it isn’t as though we can declare “We’re going to unilaterally renege on the constitutionally protected treaties and agreements that protect your title to your remaining land, and cancel the agreements we made that earned us right of entry, access, and development.”

    The late Jose Kusugak, during the Nunavut negotiations, offered to return all funding ever received from the Federal Government by and for Inuit communities, programs, and services, since the whaling days. “You guys seem to feel you’re being screwed here, so we[‘ll pay it all back. .In return, we’ll take Nunavut back, and we’ll issue a tender call for the mineral, petroleum, and rights of entry, access, transit and development.” The Inuit negotiators then speculated over who’d bid higher – the Russians or the Americans (China wasn’t in the picture yet). The feds stopped bitching about the compensation provision.

  10. Cytotoxic says:

    “Sir John’s great sin was a belief that the assimilation of Canada’s First Nations was the appropriate goal for government policy.”

    Wow that’s mendacious. You’re a real turd.

    • Neil Wilson says:

      But that was the policy of the time so nothing ‘mendacious’ said. As to Jay being a ‘real turd’, I don’t know him so I really can’t comment but why don’t you dial it back to Jay being just a ‘turd’ and we will see as time goes on. Jay might be an unreal turd for example – whatever that is. Who knows.

    • Jay Currie says:

      Well, to polish my status, what, Cytotoxic, do you think Sir John’s great sin was?

      • Cytotoxic says:

        His main relevant sin was to impose a policy of forcibly ripping apart families of native children for no good reason. Historical context softens but does not excuse this. Further, he also banned the potluck, and was a drunken corrupt incompetent.

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