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Reconsidering Canadian History:

A Conversation with Albert Dumont

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By on February 1, 2021
Albert Dumont
Albert Dumont

Last fall, in the wake of the violent death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, Crosstalk began publishing a series of articles on racism. At the time, Bishop Shane Parker wrote:

Systemic, intentional and gratuitous racism is a present and persistent reality in all our communities. Racism is both conscious and unconscious, and is always insidious, dehumanizing those who are targeted and those who perpetrate. 

Racism is utterly incompatible with the life and teachings of Jesus. We who seek to follow him must be unafraid to cross over the boundaries of denial and repression to hear how racism undermines the dignity of individuals and groups, and to understand our complicity in perpetuating racist structures, language and attitudes.

Albert Dumont, Indigenous Advisor to the Bishop, graciously agreed to share his experiences and thoughts with Crosstalk. The following is an excerpt from that conversation, focused on the destructive impact that colonialism had on Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Sir John A. Macdonald and the Indian Act

My spiritual beliefs tell me that nobody escapes justice, nobody…

I worked in a maximum security prison for a few years, and I told the Indigenous inmates that I worked with, “When Canada’s justice system tells you that you have served your time and you are free to leave the prison, that doesn’t mean you are good to go. If you have had a part in taking someone’s life or destroying someone emotionally, or whatever you have done to somebody, you still have to deal with that. It’s not Canada’s justice system that clears you of it. It’s something that you have to deal with between you and the person who suffered under you…..” 

The same could be said about Canada and the Indian Act they brought forward under Sir John A. Macdonald. If that was okay with Canadians, they didn’t get away with it. I don’t care what anybody might say. Anybody who was okay with oppressing the Indigenous Peoples of this country for so long, over so many generations, something was there waiting for them when they died because nobody escapes justice.

A few years ago [2012] … they renamed the [Ottawa River] Parkway, the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway. It was not that long ago, when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. …. John Baird pushed for it and he won, and that’s how it got named the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway. I suggested to a contact I had at City Hall that it should be named Algonquin Parkway or Anishinabe Parkway, because the fact is that if it wasn’t for the Anishinabe, Canada wouldn’t even exist. It was the Anishinabe fighters who stood with the British to keep the Americans out during the war of 1812. Pierre Berton, a respected historian, often said that. Meanwhile, Sir John A. Macdonald produced the Indian Act and the Residential Schools and the pass system and denial of the vote and so on, and they put up statues for him as if he was a hero. …

“Free” land

I’m an activist for human rights but also for the environment and the water. A few years ago, we were trying to save some 300-year-old pines near Wakefield, [Que.]…We were at a fundraiser and there was a man sitting beside me whom I never knew before that night. We got talking, and it turned out that he was Philemon Wright’s great-great-grandson.  I said to him, “You know, [due to] the fact that Ottawa was a lumber town and because of the lumber and trees, it created work and an industry that brought a lot of settlers, I would like to see the City of Ottawa and Gatineau get together and agree to put one day aside to honour trees. If not for trees, Ottawa wouldn’t have become a big city.” Philemon Wright’s great-great-grandson replied, “No, no, it wasn’t the lumber industry that brought settlers here.”

 “What was it?” I asked.

 “It was the free land,” he answered. 

“How was it that the land was free?” I questioned. “Because the Algonquins never gave it up. We don’t have a treaty to this day with the Crown.” The land was free, but somebody was left short because of the settlements and that was the Indigenous Peoples. ….Sir John A. Macdonald’s government talked about ‘the Indian problem’. There was a problem and it was us. And that mind-frame stayed for many generations after Sir John A. Macdonald was dead and gone, right up … and into the present day. …

Speaking up

What I would ask of people is that the next time they hear someone condemning Indigenous Peoples for being tax burdens or for not serving any purpose or whatever, I would ask that a person who is hearing this to find the courage, if that’s what it takes, to tell that racist person, “I’d like to know where you would be if you had the oppression that the Indigenous Peoples experienced for many generations. Where would you be?” 

It is all about the resources of this great country, right? The land and the resources. I guess it would have burdened the consciences of the settler community to know that they were taking lands and resources away from people  whose lands had been theirs for thousands of years.

Editor’s notes:  

The pass system prohibited many Indigenous people from leaving their reserves without the permission of an Indian agent.

Corrections have been made to the online version of the first part of Crosstalk’s interview with Albert Dumont “I was the only one who wasn’t laughing” December 2020 p. 8, including his age at the time (12) and the name of his Grade 6 teacher, Sister Pauline.


The Poem

By Albert Dumont

In my view there are many things of this great planet we should acknowledge as being sacred. A purity much appreciated by Creator is alive within the trees, the birds, the fish, the animals and all other things experiencing the touch of the Good Spirit each and every day. Among human beings, it is only children, the youngest ones, who truly define what sacredness is. Yet it was them, the children from Indigenous bloodline, that Sir John A. Macdonald attacked and whose minds and souls he violated through his oppressive policies, all generated to “kill the Indian in the child.” Thousands of Indigenous children died because of the Indian Act (a creation of Macdonald). The thousands of children who died in his Residential Schools should never be forgotten. I know that I for one will never “get over it.” I wrote the poem ‘Sir John A. Macdonald’ to describe my view on Canada’s first prime minister.

Sir John A. Macdonald

by Albert Dumont ©

We, the Anishinabe, search the lifeless eyes
Of the many portraits proudly painted for Canada
To honour a man Canadians believe
Was an emblem for ‘decency, righteousness and vision’
“A hero” they say, “a Nation Builder”
But the First Peoples look upon the face
Of Sir John A. Macdonald
And see the curse, responsible
For the deaths of thousands of our children

We see in Macdonald, a man, who saw
In the whiteness of his skin, a human being equal to God
Who believed his soul
Would never be in need of cleansing
And that the goodness offered daily on Turtle Island
By the ever-present Good Spirit, who teaches us
That no human being is greater than any other
Were teachings Macdonald accepted as only created for people
Lesser than men such as himself

We look at the evil Macdonald placed into the ‘Indian Act’
And other oppressive actions perpetrated by him, against us
And ask ourselves when in meditation, if the wailing spirits
Of the thousands of Indigenous children
Who died in Macdonald’s Residential Schools
Held sacred council with him in the eternal sky
Where true justice sears the soul of the guilty
After the scalding breath of death stopped forevermore
The beating of Macdonald’s spiritually hollow heart

With ceremonial tobacco by our side, we ask
Did Macdonald’s tears flow like the spring waters of the ‘Ottawa’
When the children who died in his Residential Schools
Recounted to him the last torturous hours of their lives
Away from culture, family and the unconditional love
Of a caring human being who could hold their hand
At the moment their last breath silently took them
Back to the peaceful waters of their ancestral lands

For thousands of years
Since our creation story was first told
We called ourselves ‘The First People’
‘The People’ and ‘The Human Beings’
But to Macdonald’s parliament we were only savages
Not worthy of receiving their respect and honour

Sir John A. Macdonald, a hero to the royals of Britain
Sir John A. Macdonald, who sacrificed his soul
So that the people of Canada
Would see him always as the greatest of all men
Where does he find himself today
What words of contrition does he relay
In that empty place, where for him
The darkness of a stormy night
Will never yield to a calm and re-assuring dawn

Oh but what if it had been you
The peoples of European ancestry
Who were the first human beings of Turtle Island
And here, you lived and thrived for thousands of years
Until one day, bronze-skinned people
Arrived on your welcoming and generous shores

Oh but what if the newcomers brought with them
To your tranquil and sacred lands
Ancient wars from their former homeland
And laid before you, countless pandemics of vile disease
And through the power of generations of your oppression
Could control even your very thoughts making you believe
That the light of God was for them, always present
Even guiding their cruel deeds against you

Imagine now that today, a dark-skinned man
Was being praised for destroying all that Creator gave to you
With bronze-skinned people believing he was a noble leader
Who built a great and fair nation where yours once stood
Would you join in singing an honour song in his memory
Or would you fight with all the strength of the sun
To pull his portraits and statues down

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