What the potential Mulroney Desk installation says about reconciliation
It has been about a year since the announcement that the Mulroney Institute of Government would be opening on StFX’s campus. As Brian Mulroney is a proud member of Canada’s #1 alumni network, it was an exciting announcement for all current and past students, in particular up and coming Political Science students. Since the demolition of Nicholson Hall started in the summer, campus has been abuzz with what this new building will become, as pictures of the foreseen building are being shared all over social media. Amid the excitement though, there is one seriously problematic thing being overlooked.
In recent years, StFX as a whole has been making moves to become more inclusive of all types of diversity. The cross walk by the Students' Union building has been painted in the colours of the rainbow to promote LGBTQ+ pride, and the Students' Union has included student representatives such as Equity Representative, Aboriginal Student Representative and Students of African-Descent Representative to better reflect diverse issues on campus. On September 7th, StFX had the Mi’kmaq flag permanently installed to fly on campus. With these initiatives, it seems as though StFX has been moving nowhere but forward in the efforts to be welcoming to all students. Yet, with the opening of the Mulroney Institute, the desk of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald is set to be included in the “gifts” to our campus… Yikes.
I understand that Brian Mulroney means well with this gift, but this is quite a step backwards in the efforts for inclusivity. Some might be wondering what the big deal is exactly. Well, if you’re not familiar with the history of our, at the time young, nation, let’s do a quick review of Johnny Mac’s contributions. To be curt, he was a genocidal racist. Many credit Founding Father Sir Hector-Louis Langevin as having set in place the foundation for residential schools; this led to the decision by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier this year to rename “Langevin Block” to “the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.” Yet, some argue that it was really John A. Macdonald that set the ball rolling and defended the systematic cultural genocide of our First Nations people. Even before Langevin’s infamous speech, Sir John A. Macdonald explicitly called indigenous people “savages” in the House of Commons. He advocated for children to be removed from their homes and placed in institutions to be taught the way of the “white man,” which in his mind I guess was synonymous with the proper way. His vision of the country he helped build was not what we see now – a nation of immigrants and celebrated diversity. No, his vision was one of the European settler; an undiluted colonial whiteness.
These “schools” caused irreparable and intergenerational damage to the indigenous community. One can see high rates of addiction, abuse and even illness that have been continuously passed down since this misguided attempt at assimilation. Aboriginal children have long suffered the consequences of their parents’ and grandparents’ trauma in these institutions, and this trauma created a cursed cycle of poverty and social issues that these communities are still struggling to escape. Sir John A. Macdonald literally starved thousands of aboriginal people into both leaving their land and into overall submission, as well created conditions for them that echo racism and social disadvantages for generation after generation.
Although the indigenous community was inarguably strongly affected by his policies as first Prime Minister, they are not the only ethnic group to be condemned by Sir Macdonald. Oh no, the Chinese were also a well-known target of his racist antics. He worked diligently to keep them out of the new country, citing reasons such as them stealing the jobs of white men. This argument sounds eerily familiar to those of many people in recent years regarding immigrants, but that’s a discussion for another time.
In short, why are we celebrating the work of a man that has done so much irreparable damage to citizens of our country? His desk should not be an object to revere; the desk is definitely not a great gift. Some might make the misguided argument about “erasing history.” Let me be crystal clear about this: there is a vast difference between teaching something and celebrating it. I am by no means suggesting that we erase John A. Macdonald from our history books – quite the opposite. To erase that type of history does no one any good. It leads to the undermining of the effects that his work caused, which not only hinders progress to repair it but could also lead to similar legislation in the future if people are not aware of the negative effects from the past. That said, to shed a spotlight on his desk like some kind of shrine is at best unnecessary. We’re celebrating him as some kind of national hero when in fact he was a villain to many of our citizens. On a Canadian campus that tries to celebrate and welcome the diversity of their students, bringing his desk in is a bit of a mixed message. It is a slap in the face to the Mi’kmaq community for whom they just raised a flag, and frankly that desk really has no place here. Save his “legacy” for the History department.