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Progress made with Samuel de Champlain monument in Orillia but still some way to go: Grand Chief

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On Wednesday, Parks Canada announced that it will reinstall the Samuel de Champlain monument in Orillia with significant changes, which will result from consultations with First Nations and the City of Orillia.

Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation Konrad Sioui said Parks Canada’s move to implement the monument working group’s four recommendations is an advancement.

“We’ve achieved something — we might not be there completely, but compared to where we were, we advanced a lot,” Sioui told Global News. “We made headway — as long as we complete and finalize the four recommendations…We need to talk about Huron-Wendat to start with.”

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The four recommendations set out by the monument’s working group call for the central figure of Samuel de Champlain to be re-installed immediately, however, for the First Nations, missionary and fur trader statues, which were a part of the original monument, to be subject to further consultation with First Nations.

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The recommendations also call for the text on the monument’s plaque to be updated so that it will “honour the original intent within the context of contemporary knowledge and wisdom” and that additional pieces or signs be implemented to tell a historically accurate story of Samuel de Champlain and his relationship to First Nations.

The Samuel de Champlain monument in Orillia has garnered much controversy, with some seeing it as racist and others seeing it as a depiction of history.

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“What I’m seeing is there are attempts being made to appease the masses, and I know they’re never going to make everybody happy, so I really think that Champlain, with a more accurate plaque, is appropriate,” said Krystal Brooks, one of the organizers for the Champlain Monument Awareness and Action Campaign, who’s from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

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The campaign has its own Facebook group, which Brooks said has over 150 members. The group started a petition that calls for the original monument of Champlain not to be reinstalled. The petition, both in print and online, has over 600 signatures, according to Brooks.

Brooks said some people in the group don’t want to bring the monument back at all.

“I don’t feel that a monument, regardless of a more accurate plaque, is part of reconciliation,” she said.

“By that, I mean a monument does not educate. It does not spread awareness on what is happening to our people, and many don’t actually stop to read the plaque.”

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Brooks points to the fact that equality between the Huron-Wendat Nation and Samuel de Champlain isn’t depicted in the Orillia monument.

“People are trying to pay tribute to Champlain and this part of Canada, where he was very well taken care of by our nation at that time,” Sioui said. “We tend to depict Champlain as a saviour…We have a lot of difficulties with that because we’re [Huron-]Wendat, and we’ve been (here) for thousands of years.”

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said he will support Parks Canada’s decision to move forward with the working group’s recommendations.

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“There didn’t appear to be any obvious solution that was going to make everybody happy,” he said. “We heard loudly and clearly from the community…to bring the monument back in its original form, but we wanted an additional significant educational piece that better reflected our Indigenous history.”

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Global News reached out for comment from Rodney Noganosh, the chief of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, but was told he was not available for an interview before publication.

On June 27, the Chippewas of Rama First Nation passed a motion in council that set out its commitment to reconfigure the monument in a way that more accurately reflects Champlain’s relationship to Indigenous people in the area.

“The creation of a new plaque, the development of education programming, curriculum development and additional art installations are minimum elements of a responsible reconfiguration,” a statement by the First Nation read.

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But while Brooks said Parks Canada’s decision to implement the monument working group’s four recommendations is appropriate, she doesn’t think First Nations were consulted enough regarding the Champlain monument.

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“I feel to this point that there hasn’t been a very fair consultation process,” Brooks said, adding her group has reached out to several stakeholders, some of whom haven’t responded.

“It just kind of reinforces our feelings or opinions not being heard or respected,” she said.

Brooks’ group also organized a demonstration at the monument’s site on Canada Day, which she said garnered a lot of criticism and led to some people expressing racist remarks.

“Even after that protest, I’ve had messages from people telling me to go back to where I came from”, Brooks said. “I think people talk about residential schools, people talk about the trauma and genocide as if it’s past tense, as if it’s not happening anymore, but it is.”

Brooks said her group is planning to organize a flash mob at the site of the Champlain monument on Saturday.

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“We always have to state our point, to be known and to make sure that the story is going to represent what we believe is, in fact, the true story, or at least the one that we believe is the true story,” Sioui said.

On Wednesday, Parks Canada said the central figure of Champlain will begin re-installation immediately in Orillia.

“The re-imagining of the monument and its associated figures will detail a more complete history of Champlain’s arrival in the area and his interactions with First Nations, providing much-needed context,” the agency said.

Consultation on the plaque text and other figures of the monument will take place later this year with First Nations and the City of Orillia.

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