The newly elected PM had just unveiled the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history.
It was the right thing to do.
In Ottawa last week, Trudeau stripped Hector-Louis Langevin’s name from a federal building that houses the PM’s office. Langevin was an early advocate of the residential school system, one he thought would be the quickest way to assimilate First Nations children. Instead, it resulted in the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of many students. Removing his name from this building was the right thing to do.
Trudeau should also do the right thing when it comes to the name of a national historic site in P.E.I. that’s an irritant for some Indigenous people here. In fact, one First Nations leader returned his Order of P.E.I. medal in protest.
Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst is a national historic site named after Jeffery Amherst, a British general¬ who established the fort near Rocky Point soon after the British took Louisbourg from the French in 1758. There is evidence in his correspondence to other British military that he proposed distributing smallpox-laced blankets among the First Nations people on the Island “to extirpate this execrable race.” (Oxford Concise dictionary translation – “to root out and destroy completely this extremely bad or unpleasant race.”)
Parks Canada, through its sites and monuments board, has refused to remove the name. It reasons the site does not commemorate or celebrate the actions of Amherst, but it does commemorate the fact that the site served as the seat of government for French and then British colonial governments. It has proposed adding the historic Mi’kmaq name for the site to the title.
In the wake of Trudeau’s scrubbing of Langevin’s name from a federal building in Ottawa, would it really be too much to ask that Amherst’s name be removed from the Island site? Granted, the cases aren’t identical but they do share one key similarity: both names are considered offensive – with justification – by groups of Indigenous people.
The compromise of adding a Mi’kmaq name to the title doesn’t sit well with John Joe Sark, the Mi’kmaq keptin who returned his Order of P.E.I. medal last spring. In an interview with The National Post, he said having a Mi’kmaq name alongside Amherst’s would be an insult and a disgrace.
When he announced the Langevin name change, Trudeau said there is a “deep pain” in knowing the building carries a name so closely associated with the horrors of residential schools. During a recent visit to P.E.I., Trudeau said he’s willing to listen to concerns about the Island name and to having discussions on how they can move forward “in a way that is respectful.”
If he could strip Langevin’s name from an Ottawa federal building out of respect for Indigenous peoples, Trudeau should be bound to remove Amherst’s name from the federal park in P.E.I.
It’s about showing respect to a resilient group of Islanders who, over several centuries, have had to fight to save their culture under often-oppressive conditions. It’s about removing what is a constant reminder of a man who represents that oppression for some First Nations people here.
It’s also 2017 … and it’s the right thing to do.