Capital Daily

What The Toppling Of The James Cook Statue Means For Victoria’s History

Episode Summary

As Victoria grapples with the intense emotions that lead to protestors tossing the Captain James Cook statue into the harbour, we take a step back and analyze what statues mean for our society, what they come to symbolize, and how we can move forward while acknowledging the history that got us here. 

Episode Notes

As Victoria grapples with the intense emotions that lead to protestors tossing the Captain James Cook statue into the harbour, we take a step back and analyze what statues mean for our society, what they come to symbolize, and how we can move forward while acknowledging the history that got us here.  

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Episode Transcription

Disclaimer: These interviews have been edited for clarity and length. 

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Thursday, July 8th. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. Today on the show, after the toppling of the James Cook statue in the inner harbour, people are looking for answers on what happens next. Today we speak more about the significance of statues and what they represent to find out what this moment means for history and how to move forward. This past Canada Day was a significant moment in Victoria's and Canada's history. As more remains are discovered at former residential school sites, tensions and anger around colonial symbolism have been high. This resulted in large protests on Canada Day in support of the lives lost and those impacted by the colonial system that destroyed the lives and communities of First Nations peoples. On Canada Day evening, the statue of 18th-century explorer Captain James Cook that stood in Victoria's inner harbour was toppled by protesters. The majority of the statue wound up in the water, and what remained was dressed in red handprints and cutouts of red dresses to represent the residential school victims and murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Captain James Cook, a British explorer, was locally celebrated in the past for his, and I say this in quotations, "discovering" of Vancouver Island. His legacy as a pioneer of British colonialism in this province is now widely called out for the harms and human rights violations accompanying that era. Prior to the falling of the statue, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority inherited the statue when they were formed in 2002, and was planning discussions with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations over what to do with it. Now, they're looking at what to do with what remains of it. Instead of having a conversation about James Cook's character and his past, we wanted to have a discussion about the significance of statues, their historical context, and what we can take from moments of public outcry such as this one. We also wanted to hear about how society can move forward from moments like this. Emily Vance will speak with Ry Moran, Associate Librarian of Reconciliation at the University of Victoria and former director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. But first, we're joined by Dr. Geoffrey Bird, Professor in the School of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University and a Project Lead of the War Heritage Research Initiative. Dr. Byrd, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Byrd: And thank you, Jackie. I'd like to start by acknowledging that I'm living and working, and playing on the lands of Lekwungen and WSÁNEĆ peoples. 

Jackie: Now in the conversation around removing statues and how it impacts our history is one that's been had a lot. So I don't want to go too deep into repeating things that have already been said. But I would love to hear your thoughts on how removing statues affects art history and how it potentially creates new history? 

Dr. Byrd: Well, that's a great question. And certainly, as the removal of statues and monuments over history is not new. And this has been something that's occurred since Greek times. And it's been an example of political dissent. And also, when voices need to be heard, you've seen the removal of monuments in Dublin during the 1910s and 1920s. And right up until the 60s, you saw that anything like a statue of Queen Victoria was removed either by force or just by planned removal. So it is a challenge because what it does is there is this view that it creates cultural amnesia that we forget those things that we remove. And whereas they are important opportunities to educate people, when we do have them remain, sometimes they are so difficult that sometimes they generate so much pain that they just need to be taken down and placed somewhere else where they can be put into a certain context and be used as a teachable form. 

Jackie: Yeah, I think many people are struggling with preserving history versus honouring people of the past. You don't necessarily deserve the honour that's given in certain opinions. Is it possible to remove the idea of honouring somebody from putting up statues or memorials? 

Dr. Byrd: It's a challenge because memorials are symbols, and we put statues and monuments up to things that we want to remember. And often, they are given a small description of maybe 100 words. And that, of course, leaves out so many details that are important to the discussion. So. So, there was a conversation that happened in the United States amongst historians that spoke about having multiple sites of interpretation around a particular monument so that it would allow different views to be put forward on a particular monument and its history. So there are ways where you could do that, and it can be quite a profound way to look at history in a new way essentially. There is a comment that sometimes memorials are hidden in plain sight. And I think, particularly with the Captain Cook one, maybe some people were always aware of that monument and what it meant. And then other people just walked by it every day and didn't bat an eye at it. And so it goes to show that sometimes memorials have their moment. And they come back into the present day, and they have a new meaning or renewed meaning, or a meaning that we now see. And so I do think you're right. I think there is a way we can have multiple interpretations of something. But when we think of something as a symbol, we can look at it as an instrumental symbol or a dominant symbol. And when we say instrumental symbols, we could look at Cook and say, "Here's a man who was on a ship, a sailing ship and sailed around the world several times. And imagine the navigation. Imagine all the challenges he had as a captain of a ship and how extraordinary the navigation would have been navigating by the stars." So you can look at him at that level. And then, we can look at the more dominant symbol that he was a guy who essentially created the charts that crafted the expansion of European domination around the world. So, it depends on how we look at a particular monument. And we can interpret it in different ways. And I think that the hidden secret with monuments is that they represent an opportunity to learn more and rethink some of these stories.

Jackie: Yeah, and as we look back on our history, and we interpret the stories in new ways, and we see more of the flaws that were ignored for large portions of history being there. We assess what needs to be honoured and what needs to be remembered, and in what context. But before we get into James Cook a little bit more, I wanted to talk about the removal of the Sir John A. MacDonald statue, who was another figure who was starting to look back on and addressing some of the more controversial things about him. That removal was legal and went through a bureaucratic process. Do you think that the removal of a statue through that type of protest will hold a strong historical significance?

Dr. Byrd: I think at the time it was interesting because it was really quite viewed by some as kind of a radical move, that you would actually take down a statue of a prime minister. And for other people, it was a matter of fact; it seemed like the logical thing to do. So I think there's always a politics of remembrance that we're dealing with. And so when a city government makes that decision, and I think it was a brave one, in one way, in another way, I hope there's a way where we could take that statue and present the different views of MacDonald, and what he did, and did not do to the country. I mean, there's definitely a very traumatic legacy that's attached to this Prime Minister. And so we can't ignore it. But the concern is also that whole thing where we remove it and remove it for good, like forever, we miss the opportunity for really diving in and getting beyond the one or two sentences that we might put forward about MacDonald's, and we try to unpack some of the complexities of our history.

Jackie: Yeah, we conflate the two, history and monuments. Memorializing people isn't the same thing we learned about history in textbooks. I learned more about Confederation from my grade seven textbooks than I did from looking at a statue walking down the road. Do you think that maybe sometimes we need to separate the two? 

Dr. Byrd: It's a good question. Because what we might say, of a monument, when you look downtown, and you see a forest of symbols, right? You see different things when you look across the harbour, and certain things pop up because we might know that story and other things we don't see. And so we call this heritage, and heritage is where we take selected elements of the past for present-day purposes. So we're not able to kind of recall all of history. And so we select elements or people that represent a certain moment in the past, and we memorialize that person or that moment. And so, of course, that is challenging because it means that there's a lot of things that we forget or that we silence. So heritage is definitely a political statement. And it's quite intriguing when we have things like the issues of the Royal BC Museum, this monument, and we look around. We see all these different things that have been pieces of heritage, which essentially become representative representations of history. And we see how flawed they can be. Often, there's not a lot of funding for this kind of thing. What I do like to see is these sites of interest signs, and over the past several years, the provincial government working with local communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, has rewritten those and brought them into a present-day understanding. So they do represent history, for better or worse, but we need to revisit them and look at the interpretation they have made. That Cook statue is from 1976. There are other monuments around town that were made in the 50s or 60s, and they have a certain worldview, and that worldview is out of date, and maybe they need their own revisiting. 

Jackie: That was one of the things that I was curious about that I wanted to ask is that we look at statues as a forever object and put them up, and you think that's going to be our history or legacy going forward for humanity's future. What you say is right; things are snapshots of the time that they exist in. Is it a better idea to kind of look at these objects and think of them as temporary? 

Dr. Byrd: Yeah, I think we can. It's interesting when you look at a memorial when it's put up at the time it is because, of course, the memorial is there. Let's say we look at the war memorial downtown. It was erected in the mid-1920s about the First World War. So you imagine people have gathered around, they were family members that had lost loved ones in the war. And so that memorial was very powerful. And it was a reflection of the 1920s. And now, over time, we place other meanings on the war memorial for other wars and, and we look at it from a perspective of war and peace, and we evolve, but some memorials don't do that very well. And some memorials may reflect a story of nostalgia for the past and that the past was great when we know it wasn't. And therefore, those memorials might be ones that are essentially lifted up and placed in a setting where they can be taught; they can teach us things about how we understand the past. And what we need to use the past for. 

Jackie: I want to move back into the James Cook situation specifically, which was removed differently from the drawn MacDonald's statue. As we know, it was knocked over illegally by an act of civil disobedience. But I feel like there's a conversation about the historical significance of that kind of act, as opposed to going through things bureaucratically. Is there something to be said for the moment in history in which a statue was toppled by the residence of the people in the area? 

Dr. Byrd: Yeah, I think there is. Obviously, we'll hear from agencies like the police and the government that this was an act of vandalism, which we can say by law that it was. Still, in another way, we can look at it from the perspective of virtue and the emotional charge that was happening there, as a result of the past month's tragedies, which led people to take action. And I think there is a statement there. And I think what it does is it makes people lean forward and hear the anger and the call to action that needs to occur. And it is about understanding our history in new ways. And I think what I would have liked to have seen with the Cook statue is have a discussion about taking it down and then put it in a place, say, in a museum and say, "Here's an artifact from another time." And this is what we used to talk about. This is how we use to present explorers because, as I mentioned earlier, the image of Cook as this navigator and the things that he did is an incredible story, yet, of course, he's a controversial figure of all kinds, he changed the course of history in a lot of ways. So I do think to your point, I believe there are some, for one of a better word, there is some virtue in this act, but I would hate to see it become something of a normal approach. Because what it does is it also can be divisive. If it continues, if there are more and more and more monuments that are knocked down, there's going to be one that maybe people go, "Wait a minute, there's another view here, and this one was important."

Jackie: I know, I get what you're saying, the idea that, if you do things through the more or less legal channels, you're opening yourself up for more divisiveness in the conversation. Whereas if you go through proper channels, then things can be removed, and people can move on and feel like there's some sort of connection to the different sides of the story. 

Dr. Byrd: Yeah, and I think what this action does, this public action of protest, I think will trigger a conversation about memorials that we have all over Greater Victoria and elsewhere, where people will look at a monument, and they'll say, "Okay, what should we do with this now? Maybe this isn't a question we asked; maybe some people were asking this question, say 20 years ago, about the Cook monument. But I would suggest that maybe only a few people were, maybe certain communities were. But now we are all looking at monuments and say, "Okay, what, what's the other meaning of this?" It does speak to the things that we cherish in our history or the things that we placed around us. And I think there's this reaction; the alternative reaction was this whole thing of "Wait a minute, this has something to do with my identity. And I wanted that monument." I don't think many people are saying that about the Cook monument, but there could be other monuments where they do say that.

Jackie: I know that you had mentioned it earlier, but the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, which owned the statue, had planned on speaking with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations already. They did inherit the statue and were unsure of it, so they wanted to know what to do with it. Do you think it could have been more impactful if it came down? 

Dr. Byrd: Well, that's difficult to look at in hindsight, but had they made that announcement, it would have been really helpful to see that so many agencies were mobilizing to make a change. Perhaps if they had just said, "We're taking this down," then there would have definitely been some people saying, "Wait a minute, we've got cancel culture happening here." You would have seen a debate in the media, and it would have shown the different sides of this argument, but ultimately would have come down. I like to think, and I think people are aware of the controversy around Cook. We see this in other parts of the world. I think what this will do is it will trigger conversations about other monuments around Greater Victoria, like the Quimper monument in Esquimalt Lagoon. 

Jackie: Taking down the statues through the proper channels. Could it symbolize a dignified finish to the figure, as opposed to this situation that really showed a public denouncement?  

Dr. Byrd: I think some people were saddened by it. They agreed, I think in large part with the efforts to find truth and reconciliation, and I have many friends who were 110% wanting to do whatever they could, and then the surprise of the memorial of that monument coming down not so much that they had a strong feeling for the monument. But I guess they felt like things were just now out of control. And that the chance for conversation and dialogue was lost now. And I think there is a chance for people to sense fear. And when you have fear, you have that whole sense of pushback. And so, I don't think all is lost in this conversation with this, this Cook monument coming down. But I think the more progressive way is to come together and figure out what to do with existing monuments and what should replace them, which would be a wonderful conversation about art because a monument is a piece of art, whether we like it or not. And there's someone who has sculpted something and presented something for us to place meaning on it. As we do, right, it's a piece of bronze, and we placed meanings on it, which is a really interesting phenomenon in itself. So what about art in the future that we can collaborate on that allows us to rejoice, that allows us to feel a sense of community and that steps away from divisive pieces. I think that's where we're going next on this journey. And sure, would it be nice if it came down more peacefully? Sure, but we're here now, so we'll have to move on. 

Jackie: I guess what I was kind of asking is like James Cook, him coming down this way kind of created an end that was a little bit more of a public denouncement, as opposed to coming down and being put into a museum. But I understand that there's a lot of factors that you have to play into because you have to have room for discussion. And you have to have other people not feel threatened in this kind of situation because it does call for retaliation, which we did see, with the unfortunate torturing of a totem pole on the Malahat. You did mention the truth and reconciliation. I wanted to ask a question about the call to action 82, which read, "We call upon provincial and territorial governments in collaboration with survivors and organizations to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible residential schools monument in each capital city to honour survivors." Do you think that this could be an opportunity? It is directly tied to what we're kind of talking about with Cook and Sir John A. Macdonald. Do you think this is an opportunity to honour that?  

Dr. Byrd: It is an interesting question because where you locate a monument is also as important as the monument itself. Some monuments are placed in locations that are essentially destined to be forgotten. And so a monument like a memorial to the residential schools, specifically, the children who went there and those who died there. It needs to be in a central location for all to see. And so that we're reminded of it. And I think this is a decision that Indigenous communities will want to make, and they make on their territory, closer to where they may be closer to a specific sacred location that they want to choose. The Inner Harbour is kind of a culturally geographic central location for people that live here. And that way would always be central to our discussion, I think when we look across the landscape of Victoria Harbour, but I think it opens the conversation and those communities that are driving the process, we'll need to think about what's the best place for that kind of monument. 

Jackie: I want to ask some more general questions about statues. And in that the people they represent, do you think that putting up statues of a figure alters their public perception? 

Dr. Byrd: No, a statue goes on its own historical journey, right? So, the moment that a statue is unveiled, there might be a lot of support and endorsement for it. And then, over time, of course, that journey changes and the story of that person may change. And again, we placed meaning on an object. And, and this what's what brings us to this point with Cook. The original 1976 creation of that monument was an effort to acknowledge the Bicentennial. And when I was a kid living in Victoria, I remember it as a time of tall ships, and there was a certain celebratory nostalgia to it. So that's an interesting thing. If there were no statues of Cook, maybe we wouldn't necessarily elevate the whole discussion around him to the extent that it is today. But in another way, these are little gateways into the past. And if we don't have these historical statues, they don't allow us to reach back into the past and understand the journey that got us here. And that is, I think, what many, many people see is a danger. We can learn a lot from the past and the mistakes made in the past to create policies and directions that help us build stronger communities and go into the future. So, it's interesting because I don't think when they erected some of these monuments, they had this intent, that these things were going to teach us things that they teach us today. But it is intriguing how we draw different lessons from these pieces of stone and bronze over time. 

Jackie: Moving forward, this becomes a little bit tricky for the players involved. And we're also going to be looking at our politicians for answers. The statue was removed illegally, which leaves them in a situation where you can either denounce this kind of activity and replace the statue, which could then be taken as reconfirming colonial symbolism. Or, you can honour the feeling of the statue, which could then be taken as condoning criminal activity, keeping in mind current tensions and the fact that the investigation is ongoing going forward. Do you think that what happens next will play a large significance in the historical context of this moment? 

Dr. Byrd: Yes. When we look at, when we look at society, we look at its laws. And basically, laws are enforced by the authorities. In all circumstances, they tried to do that without, without interpretation, without bias. I think there's always an understanding of what society is saying with this action and the reaction to it. We have well over 1000 children that we've discovered, and this action results from that outpouring of anger and trauma and emotion. And so, this is where we are now. So, let's not worry about the statue so much as use this as an opportunity to figure out a way to reconcile, and maybe there's a monument that goes there that is about that allows the communities to come together. One that strives towards a sense of reconciliation, and what would that look like from an artistic perspective? And I think that when we look at that Inner Harbour, it is such an opportunity to reflect what we want to be as a set of communities that are coming together. What is it that we want it to say? I think the opportunity that authorities are going to realize and I could see a very healthy discussion from this. 

Jackie: Doctor, thank you very much. Here's Emily Vance with Ry Moran, an associate Librarian of Reconciliation at the University of Victoria and former Director of the National Centre for Truth and reconciliation. 

Emily: Ry, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on our show today. 

Ry: Thanks for having me on. 

Emily: What did you think when you heard that the statue of James Cook had been taken down?

Ry: I mean, for me, I've been asked that question so many times now that I'm not really surprised by the statutes being addressed and questioned by folks in society. This is happening right across the country, and it's happening right across the world. It's been happening for a number of years now. And I think it's just one more step in the one attempt being made to call into question historical figures of our past and present. And who we choose to, to glorify, essentially, and just how we remember them, I think, as well. I think one of the big questions for Canada right now is, whose histories are being told and whose histories are literally being put on to monuments? And what histories are being submerged or displaced in the maintenance of those histories? And certainly, what's central in the work of truth and reconciliation is the recognition of Indigenous people's rights and histories. We have not done a very good job at telling all sides of Canadian history, and it's been very one-sided for a very long period of time. And the truth, part of truth and reconciliation, is incredibly important right now. 

Emily: Diving into this particular statue, the Greater Victoria Harbour authority had put out a statement saying that they had plans to meet with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations to consult on the future of that statue. How different do you think this particular moment would be if it were done in consultation with those nations? 

Ry: I think one of the long-standing objectives in this country is that Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples come together, to co-develop, to co-plan to discuss in a climate of mutual respect and understanding and that the determination of perhaps what is right and wrong, or what next steps need to occur, is done in that spirit of open Frank, honest and respectful dialogue. Again, looking back to our past, we really have not seen a lot of that in our country's history. It has been very one-sided, very positional. Generally speaking, when we look at how the state is interfaced with Indigenous peoples in BC right now, we have to understand that there's an ever-increasing focus being placed on the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples. Those inherent rights of Indigenous peoples enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, for example, say that Indigenous peoples have a right to express their histories to transmit their histories. And states have a corresponding duty to ensure that histories presented are not false and do not incite hatred, prejudice, or ill feelings towards Indigenous peoples. So the idea that groups are coming together, they have respectful dialogues that they're determining what should happen next is exactly what needs to be happening. And I don't think we should preclude what will come out of those discussions; it might mean not doing certain things, it might mean doing things differently. It might mean adding something to or removing something from society. And that's all okay. And it's very, very healthy, and it's very much needed right now. 

Emily: That makes sense. So you're saying the outcome of that consultation could have been very different from what happened last Thursday? 

Ry: Correct. And I think when I when, I look across the country, for example, when I look to what's happening in the city of Winnipeg right now, where I spent the last decade living, that city, in particular, is attempting to get out in front of the curve on this very complicated issue of monuments, place names, statues, and has struck an entire committee and has created policy around how these places and statues and historical figures can be reviewed in a systematic and thoughtful way involving representation from a multitude of parties. And that reflects the inherent need for cities to be prepared for organizations to have these conversations and not be caught flat-footed because there are many, many perspectives in this country that have to be heard right now. Certainly, the perspectives of Indigenous peoples have to be heard and need to be incorporated in decision-making. And it behooves all organizations to create the structures necessary to have those respectful dialogues and to maintain those respectful relationships necessary to address some of these thorny issues that we have right within our midst.

Emily: Timeliness is also a factor here. I'm not sure if the folks involved in taking down the James Cook statue, I knew that that consultation was upcoming. But I imagine that statue has been up for a long time. And we've known who he was for a very long time, how urgent it is that we address monuments and address place names, and we work to do those things now, rather than pushing them on to the next agenda and the next agenda. 

Ry: I think it just has to be a part of what we're doing as part of our regular course of operations and business. Because what we've been asked to do collectively as a society is to pursue a much more anti-racist, anti-oppressive path, we've been collectively asked to become much more truthful and honest. We've been asked not to submerge Indigenous histories any longer and to ensure that Indigenous histories have a rightful place within society. So to not do anything about that is the wrong pathway. Right now, what is very important is that all organizations adopt methods, mechanisms, processes, hire the right staff, allocate the right resources, and have these important conversations. And certainly, this is a long and winding path ahead of us. There are many, many issues that are facing us. But as was said by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself, it is the establishment and maintenance of mutually respectful relationships. That is the pathway for reconciliation. That is the definition of reconciliation. So we can use these opportunities to sit down with one another to create those environments of respectful dialogue and exchange. To delve into some of these really important issues of what should we do and what should we not do, all as opportunities to further reconciliation to advance reconciliation and to make the changes that are necessary for society. 

Emily: In that spirit of moving forward, not specifically for this, but in general, how should we be moving forward in terms of public monuments? What kind of public monuments do we need? 

Ry: When we look around the country, we can still see that we are very much in times of firsts still. So just yesterday, this past week, we saw the first Indigenous Governor-General in the country's history be appointed. Hopefully, there will be many, many more. Maybe there'll be a Metis person at some point, and there's Mary Simon, who is Inuit herself. There are many firsts still to come in this country. And we're still very much in a time of firsts, as we start to take greater steps down this pathway of inherent equity, fairness, justice, representation, deconstructing the systems of racism and oppression that have happened for so long, and really, since the inception of this country. So I think what's important is, as we look around at our public spaces. We look around at our public monuments, and we question who we're remembering and who we're not remembering. We need to take steps to begin to look much harder at our history and lift up those people that have been defenders of human rights and advocates for human rights for decades upon decades. Many of the Indigenous leaders in our country have been doing the hard work of advocating for and promoting and trying to protect fundamental and inherent human rights structures. And there have been so many examples of very courageous, brave, dedicated leaders that have been fighting the good fight for, again for generations. We need to celebrate those people. We need to lift them up. We need to think about shining a light on them to shine the light on that good work. So many historical figures that we remember right now have not been advocates for human rights, have not been advocates for equality, justice, fairness, and that is very, very problematic. And if we do choose to remove some of these figures from our public places, remove the statues, and direct other ones. That's okay. Because we may be as a society consciously saying that we are going to choose to put different weight on different values, knowing what we know now, and that's a very important and necessary process that we need to be going through; we need to see these monuments in these historical figures as expressions of our collective values. And I think it's very important that we ask ourselves what those values are that we want to be living by. 

Emily: For the physical statues that are coming down themselves, do you think there is a physical place that they should be like? Should they be destroyed? I mean, James Cook ended up in the Inner Harbour and was later taken out, but should these statues live somewhere where they can, people can be educated about them in their proper context.

Ry: When we look at broad perspectives of human rights memory, what's important is states themselves have a proactive responsibility to maintain a record of their human rights violations. These international principles were very important in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work and later formed the foundation of why we have an Indigenous national archive, like the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which houses a massive collection of information on residential schools. These two principles say that the state has a proactive duty to remember to help realize the guarantee of non-recurrence. And in plain language, that means let's ensure that we maintain the record of what happened, let's maintain the record of where our, of how we failed so that we can understand those failings so that we never repeat the same mistakes again, in the future, I think what we need to be thinking about is we even need to be thinking about things like museums of museums if that makes sense. Because we have to maintain a record of how at one point in time, we were depicting Indigenous peoples Indigenous rights, relationships with Indigenous peoples academic libraries themselves, like where I work now actually play a very, very important role in some of that memory keeping because we have a responsibility to maintain both kind of the good books and the bad books to so as to facilitate ongoing critical engagement and reflection on our collective failings and our and our collective misdeeds. So when it comes to statues, the question isn't really so much destruction. It's just where should they be? And how should we understand these historical figures? Who do we want to lift up in society literally? And when we start to ask these more broad, open-ended questions, we find that there are quite a few options present to us. In certain cases, that may include the removal of the statue. In other cases, like what's happening at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, where there's a number of very prominent and problematic Canadian historical figures buried, there are additional pieces of information added to the plaques or to the information on those people to better contextualize or explain who they are. In some cases, the plaques themselves have to be removed and completely rewritten because they're so glaringly ignorant or one-sided in their telling of the truth. And that applies just so broadly to so many different facets of our society, from road signs to the Canadian historical moments, to statues to how we tell newcomers about our collective history, to what's written on government websites. It's a very large task that we're going through as a country to become more truthful, more honest, more transparent with what we've done and where we're trying to get.

Emily: In terms of monument requests, the Truth and Reconciliation call to action number 82 asks specifically for monuments commemorating residential schools. It calls upon provincial and territorial governments to create those. Do you know what kind of movement there has been in BC and maybe specifically on Vancouver Island to make that happen? 

Ry: I'm not directly or personally aware of much movement on the residential school monuments here in the province of British Columbia. I, that's not to say that there's not a dialogue happening on it. I'm just not personally aware of it. I'm much more familiar with the state of dialogue on the National Monument. And there have been conversations, and there has been an engagement process with survivors. This was discussed at the assembly First Nations National Assembly two years ago, and information was provided to delegates on the status of those engagement sessions. I generally understand that there were some funds notionally targeted for a national monument. But over the recent years since some of those engagements happened, I haven't seen a lot of movement personally. Again, that's not to say that there's no action underway. But those particular calls to action are very, very important. And what we're doing in this country right now is building the infrastructure necessary to remember and laying a foundation for proper ceremonies, ceremonies, and Remembrance has to happen moving forward. So when we look holistically at the TRC, calls to action. We see calls to action on missing children, for example, those who never returned home, and the need to find, locate, honour, and actually understand who they are and where they came from. In a national memorial register, we see calls to action related to the sights of gathering, wherein people can come together and reflect in ceremony, our failings and our opportunities to do better in the future. We see the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation now being brought into force. And this year will mark the first-ever national statutory holiday for the National Day for truth and reconciliation. We see a parallel structure running involving the national historic sites and monuments board to find ways to recognize some of the residential schools' sites properly, and a couple of residential school sites have been recognized as national historical sites. All of these things contribute to creating a fabric or a framework for more accurate truth-telling in the future. Greater depth of reflection on both our failings and our opportunities as a nation, and all being done with the goal of assisting us to realize these collective goals of truth and reconciliation in the country.

Emily: And that's the role of monuments, and everything you described is uncovering that truth and not just one side of the truth, but all sides. Is there anything else you think is important to bring up in this context? 

Ry: I think the only other thing that I'd like to bring up is over recent weeks, we've seen both actions and counteractions. So we saw the burning of a totem pole up on the Malahat recently, as well, and some quite horrific. I think what's important for listeners to understand those, there's a very different type of question or action behind challenging a statue and then later burning a totem pole. There is a very different set of relationships embedded within that pole because when we think about the totem pole, it's expressing relationships between multiple forms of creation, multiple forms of life on this planet coming together in a good way, and also representing respectful relationships between families or between lineages between time. It's a type of archive or memory mechanism. And generally, from what I understand, the relationships embedded within those totem poles are healthy, good, positive relationships. So when that's attacked, or we're attacking those good relations that are embedded within that, that way of thinking. When somebody like James Cook or Sir John A. MacDonald, or Queen Victoria is called into question through the removal of a statue or through painting them with red paint, what's being called into question is not the good actions of those people, but in fact, the negative act. Have those people, the inherently diminishing or racist or other really oppressive actions and ideas that they not only exposed to but inflicted upon people really all over the world. So it's important that we don't see these things as being the same. For so long, this country has continued to frame Indigenous activism as a problem. This goes all the way back to the very early days of the Indian problem that major Canadian political figures like Duncan Campbell Scott were trying to "solve," through things like the residential schools, which we now know are horrific violations of human rights, absolutely horrific, assimilative centers that have no place in any society ever anywhere, let alone Canadian society. The opportunity here is when we see people demanding accountability from public and historical figures, that these are all motivated and driven by a desire for human rights, human dignity, anti-racism, anti-oppression, societies free from justice and inequality. It takes many, many different forms. And it's taking many different forms right now that may make people feel uncomfortable about how some of those forms are being expressed. But the actual intent is actual accountability for bad actions of the past that really will continue to impair this country for years to come unless we get out ahead of these very prejudiced and racist ideas that continue to linger and continue to be very deeply enmeshed within the state.

Emily: Ry, thank you so much for taking the time to join us and break down this very complex and ongoing issue.