Reconcili-Action: Making City Hall Welcoming to All

Reconcili-Action: Making City Hall Welcoming to All

Last night (Monday, October 16) at council – we agreed to remove the Watson Statue from City Hall front lawn.  

The removal of the statue is a long time coming.

I want to thank Mayor Siscoe for bringing the motion to council and for his leadership that lead to a 12-1 vote in favour of removing the statue.

For some of my colleagues the decision was a difficult one.  For me it was not.  The time for talking is done.  As one of our delegates last night said, it is time for reconcili-action.  Action that demonstrates to our Indigenous community that we have heard them, we have listened and that we are committed to ensuring that our City Hall is a place that is welcoming and not one that causes hurt and pain.

For those that may disagree with my vote, I wanted to share what I said last night so you can understand why I believe so strongly that the Watson statue needs to be removed from City Hall front lawn.

Thank you to Sean and especially Jessica for sharing with us the impact that colonization has had and the violence and intergenerational trauma that so many in the Indigenous community have and continue to experience. 

I have always loved history. I have a degree in Canadian History and proudly served on our city’s heritage advisory committee for 18+ years – 15 of those as co-chair.   

I have and will continue to work hard to advocate for and preserve our city’s built, cultural and natural heritage. 

I will admit that when the question about what to do with the Watson statue first came up many years ago – my initial reaction was why. Why do we have to do anything?  

I did not understand.  But I did know that I needed to learn.   

I needed to read the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action to learn what needs to be done.  

I needed to listen to residential school survivors to learn about the pain and trauma that residential schools have caused. 

I needed to listen to people in our Indigenous community as they share their experiences and the pain that they have and continue to experience.   

As I learned and listened, I realized that as a white colonizer there were actions that I could take. 

I needed to acknowledge that my country committed atrocities.  

I needed to acknowledge and understand that our government wanted to eliminate all Indigenous people.   

I need to take every opportunity I am given to continue to learn and listen. 

If we truly believe in Truth and Reconciliation – each of us needs to take action. 

It requires each of us around this horseshoe and in this chamber to do our homework. 

To understand who wrote our history. 

To look at who we are celebrating in our public spaces through a lens of truth and reconciliation.   

That we as elected officials to take steps to ensure that public spaces are spaces for ALL – that they are not places that cause pain, trauma and celebrate the suppression and slaughter of Indigenous peoples. 

It is easy to say I believe in truth and reconciliation, to wear a t-shirt, put on a bracelet, attend a flag raising or go to a Pow Wow.  

But the time has come for action – it no longer can simply be reconciliation – it must be reconcili-action.  

The statue that sits on our City Hall front lawn is not an actual depiction of Private Watson.   

The community that came together to erect the statue intentionally did not want the statue to be of Watson – they wanted a design that represented all citizen soldiers.   

It is not his regimental uniform, not his regimental cap – the uniform is that of our local militia. 

The quote on the statue attributed to Col A.T.H. Williams is not about private Watson nor is it about any of those killed in the battle – I know this because he died four days after the battle on his way home. 

The decision to place the statue on the city hall lawn was made at the last minute rather than placing it where his family wanted it at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. 

The statue dedicated to Private Watson was never about a young man who lost his life in battle.   

It was and is a statue to all those who fought and died in the Northwest Resistance.   

The statue reflects a moment in time that celebrates a battle – specifically the battle of Batoche – whose goal was to suppress and block the Metis from determining how they were governed and being treated as equals to the white settlers.  

As a country we have changed our view of Louis Riel and the Northwest Resistance.  

Unlike when I was first learning about the Northwest Resistance in grade school and high school – Louis Riel is no longer viewed as an enemy of the state but as political leader, a passionate defender of the Metis people who advocated for guarantees for their land, language and political rights – and as one of the founders of the province of Manitoba. Manitoba in 2008, established Louis Riel Day to celebrate and honour this hero.   

It seems inconceivable to me that with all we have heard from our delegates this evening,  

The commitment we as a city have made with our MOU with the Niagara Regional Native Centre,  

Our unanimous vote that the City of St. Catharines would, continue to foster a community that is safe, supportive and a welcoming place for people who live, work or visit our community –  

That anyone would support leaving the Watson statue on the front lawn of City Hall. 

I believe that if we leave the statue where it is – we as a city are saying we are committed to celebrating the death of the founder of the Province of Manitoba and the suppression of the Metis people. 

I don’t want to have to have another conversation with my nephew about why there is a statue on the front lawn of city hall that hurts people.  And I don’t want to have him ask me why I didn’t do something about it. 

I will be supporting fully the motion to remove the Watson Statue from the front lawn of City Hall.