The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has been criticized these past several days for wanting public schools to remove Canada’s first Prime Minister from their names. There is an uproar over how people are trying to erase history, and overwrite Canada’s national identity. Social media is alight with people furious with the teachers, and proclamations that teachers need to re-study the subject and learn how to teach real history.
The prevailing argument against removing MacDonald’s name is that he shouldn’t be judged by the values of 2017, and instead be placed in the context of his time. Such arguments ignore that MacDonald did not exist in a vacuum in the 1800s. He faced criticism for his racism then, and his contemporaries were shocked by it. For those claiming that “identity politics” are being foisted upon MacDonald, they need to understand that identity politics is what he built his career upon. Identity politics are what created the problem 150 years ago.
When the word “values” is mentioned in these arguments, whose values are being addressed? We can essentially label them “settler colonial values”. Yes, the values of many settler colonials have indeed evolved since the 1860s. However, I am willing to bet that many First Nations peoples, who were intentionally starved so the MacDonald government could save money, never agreed to be ethnically cleansed. Why then, are the values of Indigenous Peoples discounted in these discussions?
If the argument is that MacDonald should be judged by the values of his time, then why are only contemporaneous settler colonial values the ones being considered?
What many people (basically non-BIPOC) fail to realize is that our public schools in Ontario are very diverse. Indigenous children do attend these schools, and do so while names complicit in their cultures’ destruction hang over their heads in big bold letters. MacDonald deemed Indigenous Peoples to be savage, so his name means something very different to Indigenous students. If schools are to be places of inclusion, and equity, then the glorification of a man like MacDonald flies in the face of that.
Should Canadians glorify an individual who ethnically cleansed populations he found a drain on resources? Yes, he had a strong hand in creating the current country, but let us not kid ourselves on whose land this country was built upon. Let us not forget that many of these public schools, bearing the names of Prime Ministers who presided over the atrocities of the Indian Residential School System, are on unceded land. Again, whose values are more important?