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LETTER: Push to return Champlain Monument 'mind boggling'

'When did a statue become more important than your neighbour’s daily lived experiences?' asks letter writer
champlain monument gourlie
The Champlain Monument, before it was removed. | Jack Gourlie photo

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to a letter regarding the Champlain Monument, published Jan. 25.

There are over 5,000 (and counting) Indigenous children who are “sorely missed,” too. Yet we don’t see any more news articles about the ongoing horrible findings of the residential school children who were kidnapped and died at residential schools in Canada.

Why don’t you ask about, miss, or cry for them? Why don’t you demand justice for them? Yet you put pen to paper for a bronze statue with no life and no history here.

It’s unfortunate that the letter writer didn’t attend the ceremonial acknowledgement in Couchiching Park, where Bear Waters Gathering and many wonderful Indigenous Elders, teachers and community members shared the history lesson with our allies on Samuel de Champlain that was left out of Canadian history books.

It’s easier to leave out the kidnapping of Indigenous community members, syphilis infections on Champlain’s boats and the human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls within the man camps called forts. Those forts consisted mainly of men who left their wives and children behind and often perpetrated violence against Indigenous women and girls. This still happens today in pipeline and mining camps.

The writer of the letter laments the loss of a statue. The individual believes that Champlain was accused of crimes in residential schools. However, the writer either didn’t listen to the stories being told or has a selective memory.

The Indigenous teacher who was invited to share the history of Canada from an Indigenous perspective was taught by Elders in Kahnawake. That person was me. My partner and I studied the history of the fur trade and colonization for four years, writing a 2,500-year historical timeline on the findings of our research.

If anyone would like to access this history, you can find it through our program, the Sacred Gift cultural safety program, at any time. This allows me to speak first-hand of what the letter writer is referring to and their recount of what Champlain was accused of is incorrect.

The letter writer minimizes and denies the reality of the Indigenous experience of Samuel de Champlain because it isn’t a warm and fuzzy history. Truth comes before reconciliation. Respect comes with reciprocal relations. Neither of these have proven to be in the forefront of the minds or hearts of the statue supporters.

Indigenous peoples in Orillia and surrounding areas who asked for Champlain to be taken down have been more than patient with the ongoing negating of their lived experiences like somehow this is a debate. The mere fact this “debate” or harassment, in my opinion, continues in media is an exercise of privilege. To continuously debate without meaningful resolution a topic that negatively impacts Indigenous community members and their lived experience of genocide and racism is mind boggling.

When did a statue become more important than your neighbour’s daily lived experiences? The shores of Couchiching Park are the lands of many generations of Indigenous peoples and we are still here and our voices are getting louder.

The silencing of Indigenous voices and standing up for the return of a statue that continues the false narrative that Samuel de Champlain was a heroic explorer is downright cruel. But maybe this is the intent? If it wasn’t, then perhaps consider the impact and let it go. Move on and instead of missing a statue start caring for those who are living or once had lived like the thousands of missing Indigenous women and children that much of Canada has forgotten.

Show compassion and I say this to the media, Parks Canada and Champlain supporters. Bury this story and the statue once and for all.

Skennenkowa — may you and all of us carry the great peace within us, around us and when we leave this world.

Amanda Dale
Bear Waters Gathering director
Indigenous cultural safety and anti-racism facilitator