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JIM HORNBY: The folly of hype and haste

The views of Mi'kmaq people are entitled to attention and respect on this historical subject

Published on September 13, 2017

GEN. JEFFERY AMHERST, by Thomas Gainsborough,painting,circa 1785

©© National Portrait Gallery, London

Peter McKenna (Sept. 7) replied to my specific criticisms of statements in his August 25th opinion advocating the removal of the name of General Jeffery Amherst from Fort Amherst National Historic Site as follows:

He says I "belatedly" joined the discussion, my comments were "thin gruel" and a "very poor choice of words" (no examples given), that I was "awfully worked up" and that he "had struck a raw nerve" with me.

These silly comments become ironic after six paragraphs of his condescending personal jabs that mis-state my opinion and presume to lecture me on sensitivity to Mi'kmaq history and views. He questions how many Mi'kmaq I had spoken to before writing my opinion that Amherst was a "prominent man of his time," (which no historian would question). Does he crowd-source his own numerous opinions published in these columns? What nonsense!

Even more telling than his scattershot pique, McKenna fails to respond to my criticisms, or my statement that "no standards" for such a serious alteration in our historical landscape have been offered. He seems to suggest that anyone who questions any Indigenous person's assertion is insensitive, possibly racist; however, it is his assertions I question. For such a frequent flyer in these pages to lecture me that "it's long past time to stop talking" is a bit much. Why don't you set the example on this subject McKenna and put down your bullhorn for a while?

The views of Mi'kmaq people are entitled to attention and respect on this subject, and so are those of historians - and all Canadians, who have a voice in what standards are set for such changes, and who sets them. A broad agreement on the specific facts and general standards that apply is a necessary pre-requisite to such a step.

The biography of General Amherst in the online Dictionary of Canadian Biography by historian emeritus Charles P. Stacey states fairly the case against him: his "dislike and contempt for the Indians" and suggestion to Colonel Bouquet "that smallpox be introduced among the dissident Indians" in Pennsylvania. Stacey states that it is doubtful General Amherst "was more bigoted than the average official of his time." No one defends his views on Indigenous people, but the wartime context is important, and so are standards and procedures.

While we can perhaps agree that there are cases where names on public memorials cannot be maintained (e.g., Confederate generals who attempted to break up the United States to maintain slavery), the recent case of removing the name Hector-Louis Langevin in Ottawa shows the folly of allowing hype and haste to rule in such matters.

- Jim Hornby is acting commander of the Saint John's Volunteers, a long-dormant Island militia that he has called out in defence of Fort Amherst.