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Could city council weigh in on debate over future of Champlain Monument?

Letter from Huron-Wendat Nation chief asks council 'to seize the opportunity to make things right'
2018-04-07 Champlain.jpg
The Champlain Monument in Couchiching Beach Park before it was removed for restoration. (Deb Halbot photo)

There are lots of interesting items on the agenda for Orillia’s city councillors Monday.

The action begins at 6 p.m. with a special public meeting about a proposal to transform the former Paul Jackson Trucking compound in Progress Park into an indoor storage facility and an outdoor storage area.

Following that, there is 15 minutes dedicated to tax appeals, followed by the regular meeting of council, which begins at 7 p.m.

Scott Maclaglan will kick off the session with a deputation in which he will outline his concerns about “the unfairness of current property taxation” for those in common element condominiums. He is hoping to garner council’s support to request an amendment to both the Assessment Act and the Highway Traffic Act – two pieces of provincial legislation.

While his pitch is likely to garner lots of discussion, it is an item buried on Page 89-90 in the 99-page council docket that could generate the most debate – or none at all.

That item is a letter to council from Konrad H. Sioui, the Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation. He was in Orillia recently to participate in a discussion about the future of the Champlain Monument and is vehemently opposed to the reinstallation of the “offensive and degrading monument.”

The Champlain Monument was erected, amid tremendous fanfare, in 1925. But last summer, Parks Canada, owner of the massive bronze statue, removed both the monument and its plinth; the elements were trucked away to be restored. Their stated plan, from Day 1, is to return the monument back to its place – just as it was – this summer.

But its removal reignited debate about the statue and its narrative and has become a lightning rod for discussion. Many have weighed in, suggesting the statue be mothballed or placed in a museum. Others have said it should return to its rightful place, arguing it reflects a particular moment in history. Still others have suggested a separate installation/project to provide a more modern context to the work of art.

City council, if it wishes, could weigh in on the contentious issue Monday night. Sioui’s letter is slotted on what’s known as the consent agenda. At present, staff recommend council “receive the letter as information.” Essentially, that would mean the letter would simply be filed.

However, any member of council could choose to “pull” the letter from the consent agenda and discuss it, potentially opening up what could be a lively debate on the issue.

Here is the text of the letter addressed to Mayor Steve Clarke and Council:

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the City of Orillia for engaging our Nation in the discussions surrounding Parks Canada’s monument depicting Champlain’s encounter with the Huron-Wendat Nation in Orillia.

I believe in a meaningful and respectful bilateral relationship between our official authorities and, in the current context, I must stress the importance of joining our efforts in developing constructive educational initiatives that reflect and showcase our common history on our ancestral lands in the heart of Huronia.

As you know, delegates from the Huron Wendat Nation Council attended the meeting in Orillia on March 20, 2018 to discuss the steps to be taken in the Champlain-Huron-Wendat monument issue. During that meeting, it was made clear that our Nation speaks for itself and does not support the re-instalment of Parks Canada's offensive and degrading monument in Orillia’s Couchiching Beach Park. Not only would such an action undermine and challenge reconciliation efforts with lndigenous peoples, but it would also perpetuate a disgraceful perception of our Peoples as being submissive, subservient and obedient to the French Crown while portraying them as an inferior class of citizens.

Indeed, it is important to remember that the Huron-Wendat Nation saved Champlain from certain death, and in no way does this degrading and preposterous statue reflect the strength and diplomacy of our ancestors or their status as visionary allies to the French, nor does it accurately portray history.

We want our youth and all citizens to have an opportunity to learn about our past based on accurate educational tools and displays. There are many possible alternatives, and we encourage the City of Orillia to seize the opportunity to make things right.

In 2015, the Huron-Wendat Nation took part in Champlain's 400th anniversary celebrations in Penetanguishene. Our participation aimed to set the facts straight. To be more specific, it was to highlight that Champlain came into this region to understand the diplomacy and commercial rules established in North-Eastern North America by our people. As a result, with local authorities, we successfully celebrated the opening of a magnificent park called the “Champlain-Huron-Wendat Park” that local residents and visitors can enjoy today.

Decisions about the park’s features were made as partners as part of a respectful and meaningful bilateral engagement process. We do not expect any less from Parks Canada and we are requesting your support in this matter.

Further engagement in finding alternatives to Parks Canada’s monument in Orillia must be considered, However, we do understand that it is Parks Canada’s decision whether to reinstall their monument on this piece of land.

Rest assured that the Huron-Wendat Nation will take the necessary steps to convey this position to Parks Canada's officials to prevent this travesty from happening again. I remain available should you want to discuss this at your convenience.”

Konrad Sioui
Grand Chief

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Dave Dawson

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