One of many schools potentially affected by the ETFO motion. Photo: CC, DavidIharlan.
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Education is more important in maintaining history than buildings

In mid August, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) approved a motion asking school boards to rename schools in Ontario that are named after Sir John A. Macdonald. While Macdonald is considered a Father of Confederation, serving as Canada’s first prime minister from 1867 to 1873 and again from 1878 to 1891 his treatment of Indigenous peoples in this country mean that his name should come off schools.

Many Canadians may have already noticed Macdonald’s reduced presence on the $10 bill. Up until very recently, his face appeared alone on the bill, which he now shares with Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Agnes Macphail, and James Gladstone, a member of the Kainai First Nation committed to the improvement of the lives of Indigenous people in Canada.

Macdonald’s government was responsible for the execution of Louis Riel, a Métis politician, and Macdonald also restricted movement within Indigenous groups, requiring that they obtain permission prior to leaving reserves.

Considering Macdonald’s policies on Indigenous people, it’s likely he wouldn’t be too pleased about sharing a space with someone who actually has a Blackfoot name.

But Macdonald isn’t the only historical figure that Canadians need to reevaluate. Jeffery Amherst is a name that invokes disgust from people familiar with his tactics to extinguish Canada’s Huron population. In the late 18th century, Amherst sent smallpox contaminated blankets and handkerchiefs to local tribes, leading to an epidemic that wiped out the majority of Huron people in Canada. Sixteen places in eastern Canada carry the Amherst name, not to mention many others in New England.

Jeffery Amherst is certainly another historical figure who brings shame to Canada and whose name should be removed from schools. Both Macdonald and Amherst were considered Canadian heroes of their time, but are viewed quite differently through the lens of history.

Meanwhile in the United States, the removal of Confederate statues and monuments has recently garnered significant negative attention in the news after white nationalists killed a woman during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

New Orleans removed its last Confederate statue in May of this year, and the mayor of Baltimore recently decided it was best to remove statues of Confederate generals overnight so as to cause as little disruption as possible.

Considering that these statues celebrate leaders of a state whose economy depended on slavery, it is shocking that so many were put up in the first place but are still standing in the 21st century.

There are many who argue that the past should stay in the past, and that removing such statues creates a false illusion that a certain history never took place, and a similar argument is being made about what we should now name our schools. But people don’t forget because of a name change, education ensures that people are aware of their history, more so than names on a building.

In the words of Maya Angelou “When you know better, you do better.” Therefore, the more that we learn about our history, the wiser we should become in dealing with our present issues.