Every human is 'imperfect' in history, says policy expert on toppled monarch statues

'The reasonable standard to judge past figures is: Did they contribute to expanding freedom and flourishing in their era — or not?' said Dr. Mark Milke, founder and president of the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy.

Every human is 'imperfect' in history, says policy expert on toppled monarch statues
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kelly Geraldine Malone and AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
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The fine line between reconciling past injustices and playing the perpetual victimhood card continues to be crossed when addressing Indigenous grievances within Canada.

On June 7, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) decried the province for re-erecting a statue of a British monarch without prior consultation.

"There was no consultation, prior notice, or acknowledgement from the provincial government that this would be happening, which is upsetting," said AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick in a statement.

"It will have negative reactions from our people, no doubt," added Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee.

In 2021, protestors, angered by the deaths of children at residential schools and the lack of recognition of a historic treaty, toppled statues of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria on Canada Day. Many considered this retaliation for the province not honouring its promise to erect a monument recognizing the Peguis Selkirk Treaty.

For Indigenous Canadians, this earmarked the first agreement signed between First Nations and the Crown in Western Canada.

"By replacing the Queen Elizabeth II statue as quickly as this before erecting one that honours the history of First Nations in this province shows a lack of commitment to reconciliation and accountability by this province," said Merrick.

"[It] perpetuates the painful legacy of Canadian colonialism," read the statement. "By re-erecting the statue commemorating Queen Elizabeth II, that hurt has been extended."

Settee concurred with Merrick. "Our people are recovering from the discovery of unmarked graves. It's a bad time to reintroduce the monarchy's legacy," he said.

In February, Minister of Government Services James Teitsma said to expect the reconciliation monument for 2024. But earlier this month, the province replaced the Queen Elizabeth II bronze statue for $500,000.

Sette also recommended the province erect statues of renowned Indigenous leaders, like Elijah Harper, who served as an MLA from 1981 to 1992 and an MP from 1993 to 1997.

Days after its re-instalment, unidentified assailants spray-painted "colonizer" and "killer" on the monarch. The Queen Victoria statue has yet to be replaced.

"The Manitoba government was right to restore the statue and Queen Elizabeth II and should also have done the same for the Queen Victoria statue," according to Dr. Mark Milke, founder and president of the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy. 

"Every human being is imperfect in history and now — including British colonialists then and all Canadians, including Indigenous Canadians. The reasonable standard to judge past figures is: Did they contribute to expanding freedom and flourishing in their era — or not?" he said.

According to the policy expert, the British signed treaties with Indigenous Canadians, as did early Canadian founders. He pointed to Canada's founding prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, who established the North-West Mounted Police to protect Indigenous peoples from later settlers. 

"More generally, the British Empire fought slavery worldwide, including in Indigenous communities in British Columbia in the mid-to late-19th century — long after slavery had been abolished in the rest of the Empire," said Milke.

"We should not cancel Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, or Indigenous history," he clarified. 

"We should be realistic and not romantic about everyone's ancestral tree, which contains good and bad behaviours, attitudes and policies." 

"To build a country is like growing a tree: You prune off the rotten branches where they exist. You don't 'cancel' and take down the entire tree. Same with Canada and our history" continued Milke. 

"The tree that is Canada includes the British Empire, early Canadians, and Indigenous Canadians, who contributed to the freer, flourishing country we have today because of continual "pruning" of bad laws and ill-advised policies." 

"We can and should celebrate that history."    

Mary Simon, Canada's first Indigenous governor general, told reporters she hopes people come together to discuss the issue of the toppled statues. "There [are] frustrations, there's anger, and from time to time, they will express that anger and the frustrations," she said.

While Simon maintained that her office is apolitical on the contentious topic, she emphasized the importance of recognizing colonization and residential schools' impact on Canada's Indigenous people.

 

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