Several years ago, when the issue of sexist language in hymns was still a fresh topic, many people were trying to figure out how to amend traditional hymns. It was not an easy task, to take texts that had been written in a time when excluding people was far more acceptable and make them palatable to our modern understandings. How could you preserve rhyme when lines repeatedly ended in “men”? How could you avoid saying “God” several times in a sentence when somehow no one had a problem with saying “he” just as many times?
As we tried hard to reclaim texts, often with disastrous results, American theologian Gabe Fackre made a wise statement: maybe we needed to use the lead end of the pencil more, and the eraser end less. In other words, rather than try to take away from the past, maybe we needed to add to it. This thought came to mind when I heard of the laudable efforts of the city council in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, as they grappled with a statue of Sir John A. MacDonald.
MacDonald was the first prime minister of Canada who did some wonderful things.
MacDonald was a racist bastard who despised the indigenous people and thought life would be better if they could be “assimilated” which really meant “have their culture and identity wiped out.”
Somewhere in between those two statements is the heart of the real story.
The city council of Charlottetown wanted to find a way to share both pieces. Specifically, they wanted to do something with the statue of Sir John A. sitting on a park bench in their fair city. They did not want to remove it – that didn’t seem fair to the man who was arguably the father of modern Canada. But they didn’t want to ignore some of the other history of which he was so intrinsically a part either. So they did something a lot of governments are less than keen to do: they listened. Specifically, they listened to a delegation of folks from local indigenous communities, and after listening carefully they passed some new laws. They’re going to add to the statue some other things, such as representations of indigenous leaders who were also key in shaping Canada. They are going to add information about the accomplishments – positive and negative – of Prime Minister MacDonald. And through all of this they will give people the opportunity to learn of real history, not just a small and heavily weighted portion of it, and walk away with some of their own conclusions about right and wrong, good and bad.
Thank you, City of Charlottetown, for having the courage to do this. Thank you for having the courage to say “we are not afraid of history – all of it.”
Thank you for your commitment to tell something closer to the real story.