Sir John A. Macdonald, the perceived founder of this country’s historical accomplishments, affected many generations in ways that continue to this day. Some of these accomplishments include implementation of residential schools, the Indian Act, clearing the plains of aboriginals to make way for the national railway, and the execution of Métis leader Louis Riel for the “high treason” of protecting people and their land.
Macdonald was articulate in his plans to build the country we call Canada:
“Indian [First Nations] children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men [people],” he said on May 9, 1883, when he was Superintendent General of Indian Affairs.
“Take the Indian out of the child.…”
Reference to the Métis as “miserable half-breeds,” December 1869.
A key aspect of Macdonald’s method of preparing the land for railway construction and settlement was the subjugation and forced removal of indigenous communities from their traditional territories. Despite guarantees of food aid in times of famine in Treaty Six, Canadian officials used food, or rather denied food, as a means to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border as the Canadian Pacific Railway took shape.
Macdonald, acting as both prime minister and minister of Indian affairs during the famine, even boasted that the indigenous population was kept on the “verge of actual starvation,” in an attempt to deflect criticism that he was squandering public funds.
After encouraging men from China to work on the railroad, Macdonald justified an amendment taking the vote away from anyone “of Mongolian or Chinese race.” He warned that, if the Chinese (who had been in British Columbia as long as Europeans) were allowed to vote, “they might control the vote of that whole province” and their “Chinese representatives” would foist “Asiatic principles,” “immoralities” and “eccentricities” on the House “which are abhorrent to the Aryan race and Aryan principles.”
Macdonald was the only politician in the parliamentary debates to refer to Canada as “Aryan” and to justify legalized racism on the basis not of alleged cultural practices but on the grounds that “Chinese” and “Aryans” were separate species and that “the cross of those races, like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be.”
Macdonald might have been a politician said to represent his era, one of supreme and absolute British self-confidence and entitlement. Many throughout Canada might celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. There will be no birthday cake at my home that day.
Arlene Ewert is a Greater Victoria resident.