David Garneau

by David Garneau,

I moved to Regina 21 years ago from Alberta. In order to get a feel for the place, I walked. Beautiful place. But I was stunned to see a statue of John A Macdonald statue in the middle of the city. As a Métis man, I was puzzled why citizens here, in a city of few statues, chose to erect this one, to celebrate someone who had never even visited the place. Knowing that Louis Riel was hung in Regina, and played such a dramatic role in helping to shape this region, I was surprised to see Macdonald rather than Riel memorialized. John A Macdonald refused to commute Riel’s death sentence for treason, he instituted the Chinese Head tax; was an architect of the reserve system, the Indian Residential School system, and of other anti-Indigenous strategies ranging from the aggressively assimilationist to the genocidal. There are no statues of John A in all of western Canada. There was one in Victoria, at the entrance to the City Hall, but the City removed it as an act of reconciliation. We need to do the same.

The Regina John A statue is not an artifact of the 19th century. It was not installed soon after Macdonald’s death, but in 1967, during the rise of the Indigenous rights movement. The object is not history. Not a text, story, or other literal record. It is an effigy. It is also a deliberate and perpetual provocation of Indigenous people. The placement of this statue is not a neutral act. It was designed to remind Indigenous people what happens to those who resist colonization.

I avoid the Park. In the first years I was here, I only visited once a year, Nov 16, the day Riel was executed. I left small nooses at the foot of the metal man. One year I left a full sized noose. It was a private response. Nearly seven years ago, I thought about doing something more public. For the 2014 anniversary of Riel’s killing, I worked with Dunlop curator, Blair Fornwald, and performed Dear John, Louis David Riel. Dressed as the spirit of Riel, I petitioned Macdonald in pantomime, and eventually turned my back on him and went into ceremony. Jan 10, 2015, with curator Erin Sutherland, I remounted the performance in John A’s hometown of Kingston; and as a counter monument and in reaction to Canada 150, and the Riel opera, I restaged the performance in Ottawa. Three years ago, wearing a golden Riel suit, I did a related performance in Regina called “Dear John, It’s not me, it’s you.” This time: Riel: speaks and tries to convince John A to retire with him to the nearby Museum.

The statue was not erected by Indigenous people. It is was made by and for settlers to honour one of their ancestor. It is up to settlers to decide what to do with it. In its place, I suggest a conciliation medicine garden tended by Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks, a living memorial to Indian Residential School survivors and perpetual conciliation.

David Garneau