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PETER MCKENNA: Striking a raw nerve?

It is long past time to stop talking and to listen to our Indigenous peoples

Published on September 7, 2017

Re “A gesture based on false premises,” (August 30):
It seems I struck a raw nerve among a certain segment of Islanders - with musician Jim Hornby now belatedly joining the fray.

Since he offers pretty thin gruel on the whole Amherst debate, I’ll focus my comments on his very poor choice of words in his recent op-ed piece. But I will say this, though: for someone who characterizes the removal of Amherst’s name from the national park in Rocky Point as a “gesture,” he seems awfully worked up about the matter.
I also wonder about how many Mi’kmaq did Hornby speak with before arriving at the characterization that Amherst was a “prominent man.” Yes, a British general, with a less than stellar record in terms of military leadership, who espoused a hateful and violent disposition toward Indigenous peoples.
I was particularly struck by his use of the words “false premises.” Here we’re supposed to take Hornby’s word for it that Amherst didn’t engage in what I referred to as germ warfare (Bernhard Knollenberg’s words, not mine). I wonder how much “self-examination and reflection” that unsubstantiated claim entailed.
And it shows just how little Hornby actually knows about the subject matter when he equates the name-changing of Fort Amherst with a desire for “self-congratulation.” It’s about atonement, respect, reconciliation and coming up with deserving Mi’kmaw names for our national parks (of which there are none on P.E.I., as far as I know) to honour real Indigenous heroes.
Oh, to walk in someone else’s shoes for a change. We should all think long and hard about that before we speak.
We’ve been telling First Peoples what is best for them for hundreds of years - with a sense of colonial superiority that is no laughing matter - and with incalculably damaging consequences. It is long past time to stop talking and to listen to our Indigenous peoples.
In a recent Globe and Mail op-ed by Robert Jago, a member of the Kwantlen First Nation, he rightly points out: “Indigenous writer Chelsea Vowel noted that the argument against presentism was an argument for viewing the issue [or re-naming schools, buildings and parks] through a whites-only 19th century perspective....”
Isn’t it time we got past celebrating a mindset that violently promoted assimilation and extermination of our Indigenous peoples?

- Peter McKenna is professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.