Members of Kingston’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous community held a sacred fire and land-based ceremony at City Park on Thursday, Jun. 10, 2021, covering the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald with red fabric and demanding its removal and replacement with a monument to residential school survivors.
The ceremony began at 6 p.m., with a sacred fire and smudging. Several organizers spoke at the event, including Abenaki Wliwini, a local Indigenous resident. Wliwini said that the red colour of the fabric covering the statue represents the blood spilled by colonialism, and to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW).
“We are holding sacred space here for every single unmarked grave and for the children that didn’t make it home,” he said.
Mayor Bryan Paterson attended the event and spoke with participants and organizers. He stated that he was there to listen, and that the future of the statue is currently being decided in cooperation with a working group to address the issue.
”The Macdonald Working Group that we’ve established will be meeting next week, and once they’ve met, when they are ready to put forward a recommendation to city council, then we will consider whatever that recommendation is,” said Paterson. “We’ve been very clear that everything is on the table.”
Dionne Nolan (Zoogipon Ikwe), who sits on the Macdonald Working Group, was present at the event as one of the sacred fire keepers. She said that initially city hall had given them a pre-prepared terms of reference where the only changes to the statue would be the wording of the plaque, but the City has since walked back its position. Nolan said she believes the recent discovery of the bodies of the 215 children at a former Kamloops residential school site has changed the minds of the city on the fate of the statue, and she hopes a decision can be reached.
“I think it was finding the 215,” she said. “I think a lot of Canadians are waking up and saying we need to do some work here. Canadians need to be dismantling their own systems, we have a lot of work on our own to do here, so Canadians should be dismantling their own systems of oppression.”
The Indigenous residents plan to tend the sacred fire around the clock at City Park indefinitely until the statue is removed by the City, and have no plans to remove it themselves. Organizers say that all are welcome, and they will be holding continuous events in the park during the coming weeks.