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In defense of Sir John A.

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

There has been talk, and a few letters, recently about the alleged ‘racism’ of Sir John A. Macdonald. This gets under my skin, because I’ve always found that history is ‘selective’ when pen is put to paper, and the Great Book of History is forged.
Someone once said: “History is written by the winners,” and that is all too true. I might also add that history warps and conforms to modern perspectives and sensibilities.

The Americans are great at what I call ‘revisionist history’ in which negroes spouting “Yassir, boss!” never existed, and all references to that time have been pulled from public viewing. Also, according to them, a white cowboy and a black cowboy (usually played by Danny Glover) can walk into a bar and order a drink with no problem.
This worked in 1860? It didn’t even work in 1960! And yet, weren’t we great? Now that scriptwriters have polished it all up for us.

I delve into history a lot, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to frame what you find in its proper context. In order to find true history, you need to jump into the time, and think and feel like they did, when the events went down.
Christine Renaud, who launched this topic of a racist Sir John, was not erroneous, but her examination of him was seriously incomplete in an analysis of the mind-set of 1867.
It is way too easy to impose our values of today on the foibles of our past. This is because, since 1792, we have progressed and, yes, become more ‘civilized’ and more understanding of people, regardless of race, gender and culture.
Feel free to laugh heartily at that last statement because, really, we haven’t changed that much in the last 200 years. It’s just that the ‘pecking order’ is different, with some people being now accepted, and replaced with new people we can feel superior to.
To the Brits, it’s the Welsh; to Europe it’s the Poles; to Canada, it’s the Newfies; in Dominican Republic, it’s the Haitians, and so on and so on.
So, as noble as these sentiments of racism are today, they would have been met with puzzlement and promptly ignored in the pre-1900s.

Sir John was not a saint, and we know that. In fact, that’s part of the fun of it all. He was shrewd and cunning, and he was driven by a passion to unite Canada, coast to coast. He was also a rascal, and known to use any means possible to fulfill that dream.
My biggest complaint with Sir John is that he pounded the drum of federalism in Charlettetown, and created the ‘Papa Gov, Mother Gov and Baby Gov’ system which is now biting the County people in the butt.
It’s worthy of note at this point that Macdonald managed to push through a vote in the House to give the native Indians the vote. Clearly he recognized – in his new role – that to make Canada work, he needed to embrace the Indians and the French, and the East and West Coasters. That’s just good politics.
In fact, it was the Liberal government of Laurier that removed the right of natives to vote, and it was not restored until the Diefenbaker government in 1960.
(For those of you who are still stuck in party names, the Liberals and Conservatives of 1900 bear little resemblance to the like-named parties today. It would take Darwin himself to follow the evolutionary trail of ‘liberals’ to the McGuinty/Wynne dictatorship, or predict how the cause of ‘fiscal, social and progressive conservatism’ turned into Tim Hudak.)

I can’t resist another historical note: Macdonald tried to give women the vote in Canada, but the idea was so abhorrent to the House, that he had to let the concept go. With great remorse, he said (and I paraphrase): “We have the opportunity to be the first country in the world to offer women the vote – and it will surely come. But then, we will just be followers, not leaders.” And so it was.

This is not to claim that Sir John was clean as a whistle. His drive to create the cross-Canada railway was full of blood, sweat, tears, scandal, and large numbers of Chinese bodies, which sources say were buried where they fell along the route. Clearly bottom of the pecking order at the time.
But how much has really changed? With apologies to Myrna Wood, who was thankful for Harper’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Act … I’m afraid it’s a joke.
Our treatment of Canadian Indians has changed little since the 1700s.
It’s easy for Harper to apologize for the sins of Prime Ministers past, while he refuses to address the concerns of First Nations about the alarming abuse, rape and murder of native women across the country – sometimes at the hands of white policemen, according to an interview I had with the protesting Deseronto Mohawks.
All they wanted was a federal investigation, and they closed roads and performed acts of civil disobedience which were simply ignored.

I would love to paraphrase Harper, but I’m not aware of any comment he has made on the issue. So let me provide him with the words:
“We regret the historical mistreatment of our Natives by people who are not me.”
“And I also don’t want to address their current concerns because, after all, they’re Indians, if y’know what I mean.”
We have not seen this kind of hypocrisy since the province’s Green Energy Act, in which they do press promos to warn people that turtles are in danger, while also paying lawyers to make sure turtles are exterminated.
I’ll rewrite their press release as well: “Please be careful you do not harm turtles, birds and other wildlife – let us do it for you!”
“We have a really active Ministry of the Environment, and they will save/squash turtles, and harbour/kill birds and bats, and protect/demolish every inch of land they live, eat and breed in.”
Sorry, I got a little distracted on the stunning hypocrisy of government. So back to racism, then and now.
Why vilify someone from 200 years ago, when our current leaders are hell-bent on ignoring and mistreating all of us? And running their own game of selective destruction of land and cultures, to suit their own agenda.
Don’t write to Sir John A.
Write to Wynne and Harper.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Olmanonthemtn says:

    mea culpa last sentence of 3rd paragraph should read:
    But it’s no use blaming previous generations for adhering to the morality of their time when they had never been presented with an alternative.

  2. Olmanonthemtn says:

    Some Thoughts:
    E.P. Thompson warned of “the enormous condescension of posterity” when writing about the rise of industrialism. He writes “Our only criterion of judgement should not be whether or not a man’s actions are justified in the light of subsequent evolution. After all, we are not at the end of social evolution ourselves. In some of the lost causes of the people of the Industrial Revolution we may discover insights into the social ills which we have yet to cure.”
    The UCLA department of history has set guidelines for the analysis of historical figures and events. There should be an ability to determine intentions, difficulties encountered and the complexity of the world in which these people actually lived. Included should be “motives, values and ideas, hopes, doubts, fears, strengths and weaknesses.” An establishment of historical perspective is required which is the capacity to describe the past on its own terms using the “eyes and experience of those who were there” and avoiding present -mindedness” that is judging soley in the norms and values of today.

    From a historical debate sight discussing moral relativism and moral absolutism a writer comments “I suppose I would define my position as moral evolutionism, or moral progressivism. I think there is such a thing as moral progress, and that this is a product of social progress itself. But it’s no use blaming previous generations for adhering to the morality of their time when they had never been presented with.

    James Miles a creative secondary teacher in B.C. is considerate of the issues of judging the those in the past. He challenges the pop culture tendency to make judgement in terms of black or white heroes or villains. “The problem of course lies in applying this structure to the ‘greyness’ of real life, and in this case, to a distant past that may contain different social norms, beliefs and worldviews.” His students will question “how we judge historical actors, hoping to break down the binary of good/evil In the high school classroom, instead to consider how placing people in these binaries encourages certain narratives and potentially distorts the past and people who occupied it. “

    Cetainly if we seek reconciliation between peoples we need to hear and accept the responsibility with contrition the truths of the pasts and the pain from which they have caused. Garnet Angeconeb an Ojibway man from Northern Ontario experienced serious abuse at a residential school has received the Order of Canada for his work on Anti-Racism and Healing and Reconciliation on his web-site he writes “please be assured that I am not here to point a finger of blame, nor to make anyone feel shame or guilt. Rather, I am here to create awareness by speaking my truth. Through truth, we will understand. Through understanding, we will embark upon a path of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

  3. ADJ says:

    You know all that statue does is draw more tourist to our County and then they crowd up our main street. tee hee

  4. Olmanonthemtn says:

    Hmm remember the crusades the first was actually Christian against Christian based on heresy in other words we base our violence and land theft on who has the best interpretation of “absolute Judeo -Christian truths”

  5. Gary says:

    Paul; were the American natives practicing Christians at that time living by any commandments?

  6. Chuck says:

    Paul; you are bringing religion into a political discussion. Needs to be separation on that. And further did the American natives practice the ten commandments back then or even aware of them?

  7. Susan says:

    Emily’s scenario is quite interesting. Yes we have pretty much naked men running down the streets promoting same sex ideologies. How will Harper be viewed in 100 years for not resisting. Will his statue be a “bone” of contention? Lol

  8. Paul Cole says:

    The Ninth and Tenth Commandments came to mind when I read this article. These commandments were in play long before Sir John A, so the arguments that times and attitudes were different is bullsheet . The man was a racist no if and or buts about it regardless of the date… They knew what they were doing they lied and made up stories to get what they wanted. In coveting the Aboriginals lands they had to bear false witness to convince others and themselves that what they were doing was righteous.

  9. Michael Reagan says:

    This country would not exist without John A.

    While it is fair to say that no person is as good as the best thing they’ve ever done – which in John A’s case is founding the country.

    It’s equally true to say that a person is rarely as bad as the worst thing they’ve ever done.

    John A’s personal history is intertwined with that of the County and his accomplishment of founding the Country is fully deserving of that statue.

  10. Emily says:

    Relative to the thinking of the day and age. The country and County elected Sir John A. Must have agreed with his approach in that era. Times and attitude change,some for the good some not. Can you imagine half naked men having a parade carrying rainbow flags back then?

  11. Myrna Wood says:

    “think and feel like they did, when the events went down”? No, no that road leads to the same ideas of white superiority that has caused so much misery. We must understand the past in order to change what is happening today.
    If white Canadians cannot accept what Reconciliation represents to first nations survivors, as it appears you do not Steve, then they will continue to elect the leaders you scorn. Those who are continuing the policies of destroying their lands and rights.
    Does your mask of cynicism allow you to ignore the reality of today?

  12. Marnie says:

    Historically there have been many references to Sir John in county writings i.e. his first court case, the famous “dead horse in the pulpit prank” and nary a word from anyone about his racism and mistreatment of the Native Americans. It always seemed that our county was proud of his connections to it. Put up a statue and out of the woodwork come angry voices determined to equate a statue of the Father of Confederation with a likeness of Hitler. Not many words about the good the man did in his lifetime. At the time when the statue was first proposed and throughout the months when the project was in progress there was silence. Now the appearance of it on Main Street has created a firestorm. Why all the bitterness at this point in time? It is this sort of negative commentary that leads to vandalism. The statue is a fact of life now. Move on people. You didn’t speak your piece until it was a done deal.

  13. Emily says:

    Isn’t using Hitler as a comparable a little over the top? What do you do with your 10 dollar bills if you have such disdain for Sir John our Father of confederation. The time does affect the mindset. Many parents used racist language when they sent their sons off to war. And racism is alive and thriving today, it is just disguised to a fine art.

  14. Lori Cairns says:

    Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. Spoken like an older, white, European male of privilege.

    I guess because no members of your family were ever driven off the land and killed to create what is now known as Canada, it is okay to overlook the evil of the one responsible for doing it.

    Since residential schools are now closed, I guess it is also okay, in your mind, to forget all about the actions of the one who supported and aided in creating the residential schools in the first place. I guess after so many years, kidnapping and “cleansing” children isn’t a crime anymore.

    Since all the killing and torture began and ended so long ago (sarcasm here), I guess it is okay to forget all about it.

    Shall we do away with Remembrance day then? After all, those wars ended so long ago that most of the soldiers are dead now.

    Hell, let’s put up a statue of Hitler right beside ole John. Forget all about the pesky history of killing innocent people, especially children. Let’s celebrate the fact that Hitler tried to fight the bankers. (Yes, more sarcasm.) After all, so many years have gone by that all that murdering must not matter anymore.

    We dishonour our ancestors by dismissing their lives, their suffering, their determination to make a good life for their children, their experience, their death.

    To honour the one who is responsible for the death of so many is sickening. I guess your point of view all depends on which part of the rifle you were looking down, or whether you were the Indian agent sending kids to residential school or the “Indian who needed to have the savage removed from them.”

    I wonder what the conversation will be in 200 years(if people still exist), if someone wants to put up a statue of Harper claiming that all his wrongdoings should be forgotten about after all that time.

    The passage of time doesn’t make it right.

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