Council approves next steps in Reconciliation, Macdonald legacy projects

As part of the City’s reconiliation efforts, council has voted to remove Macdonald’s name from the train engine monument in Confederation Park. Photo: Samantha Butler-Hassan

City councillors have agreed to move ahead in pursuit of a sole source contract with First People’s Group, an Indigenous advisory firm in Ottawa that specialize in management consulting and reconciliation.

The City is embarking on the third phase of its Indigenous reconciliation initiative, “Engage for Change: #YGK Reconciliation Journey,” with community meetings planned for November.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Oct 20, 2020, Council approved Cultural Director Colin Wiginton to enter into a sole source agreement with First Peoples Group to provide advisory and consultation services in support of:

  • Engage for Change, Phase III;
  • Your Stories, Our Histories;
  • The Third Crossing project;
  • intergovernmental relations; and
  • Council support and staff training.

The total approved cost for their services is $182,500, exclusive of HST and travel expenses.

Chapelle: Create local, permanent liaison position

Councillor Simon Chapelle opposed the pursuit of a non-competitive, sole source agreement. He suggested that the City’s resources might be better spent engaging with a local consulting firm, or hiring a local person to work as a liaison between the City and local Indigenous groups.

“An investment of $200 thousand dollars would go a lot further to hiring someone locally,” he said. “Invest in them — with a union paid job — invest in them to do the work.” Chapelle tabled a deferral on the vote, so that City staff could investigate such alternatives.

To provide context on Chapelle’s suggestion, City staff responded that changing course would add “multiple months” to the overall process.

“The impact would be time: five to six months to properly scope the position, reach out to the community on the role and responsibilities, recruit for that position and then bring them on,” staff replied. The process also reportedly couldn’t start before 2021.

The deferral did not proceed, and the motion to proceed with First Peoples Group passed with only Chapelle opposed. However, staff noted that the creation of a permanent liaison position may well be an outcome of the ongoing reconciliation process.

Kiley: “Tremendous” work delivered by consultant so far

The City first hired First Peoples Group in 2018 to facilitate Engage for Change Phase II, which included specifically examining the legacy of Canada’s increasingly scrutinized first Prime Minister, Sir John A Macdonald.

Councillor Kiley objected to the idea of abandoning the existing relationship with First Peoples Group, suggesting that it could harm to the overall process. While he said questioning the pursuit of sole sourced contracts is in general legitimate, he didn’t feel it was the right conversation “for this moment.”

“First Peoples Group have done such a tremendous job building relationships with the local Indigenous communities, multiple nations in our city and other community members,” he said. “To use sole sourcing as a reason not to move forward on what is going to be a very difficult road towards reconciliation, and to sever all of those relationships that have been forged …would be much more problematic in my view.”

Councillor Peter Stroud also supported proceeding with First Peoples Group, noting that it was important the City engage a partner that had the tools, expertise and experience to lead a genuine reconciliation initiative.

“I do support the process but I do not support going half way,” he said. “If we end up going half way it will end up being a mistake, a really insulting mistake. I want staff to ensure that this does not go in the direction of being something that is lip service, and not true reconciliation.”

Councillor Holland: Macdonald is “a national conversation”

As the home of Sir John A Macdonald, the City has been forced to reconsider many public monuments to his legacy as part of its Reconciliation Journey.

Councillor Mary Rita Holland supported moving forward with First Peoples Group, a nationally renowned and entirely Indigenous organization, noting that “this conversation is happening at a national level, and it has been for some time.”

Queen’s University drew national attention this week, she noted, when it announced a decision to strip Sir John A Macdonald’s name from a building. Holland urged her colleagues to consider that City Council could receive similar attention as it grapples with Macdonald’s legacy.

“The conversations that we are having matter all across the country,” she said. “The fact that this is the first capital of the country and home to Sir John A Macdonald means that it’s quite significant; that the conversations that take place here have a national scope in mind, despite the fact that we are doing this work on behalf of the residents of the City of Kingston.”

She said that meeting the local needs of the residents while also addressing a larger conversation with a broad geographic scope was very important, “and something that the City has already seen develop already through First Peoples Group.”

Train, bridge included in City’s new approach to Macdonald

On July 8, 2020, as part of the ‘Your Stories, Our Histories’ public engagement process, Council approved a number of actions regarding Sir John A. Macdonald, his history and legacy. These included:

  • removing the script “The Spirit of Sir John A” from the train Engine 1095 monument in Confederation Park.
  • Replacing the book plaques adjacent to the Macdonald statue in City Park and Engine 1095 with interim notices indicating that new text is under development;
  • formation a working group led by First Peoples Group to develop new text;
  • addition of a land recognition statement developed by the Indigenous community to the City website and all City of Kingston email signatures;
  • support naming the Third Crossing in a way that “reflects and celebrates” Indigenous communities

In his July 7 report to council, Wiginton also noted that the statue of Sir John A Macdonald in City Park is “of on-going concern.”

“While most of the people who participated in the ‘Your Stories, Our Histories’ project indicated a desire to see the monument remain in place, others continue to call for its removal,” he said. “Valid opinions have been shared on both sides of this argument.”

2020 has seen increasing public scrutiny of monuments to Macdonald and other colonial-era politicians across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. On Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, a group of activists in Montreal toppled and decapitated a statue of Sir John A Macdonald as part of a demonstration against systemic racism and police brutality. On Thursday, Sep. 10, 2020, the City of Kingston installed security cameras at the statue of Sir John A Macdonald in City Park.

According to the City of Kingston, there are approximately seven thousand people in Kingston who publicly identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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