Review of monuments sparks discussion of colonial narratives in N.L. history

The Montreal statue of John A. Macdonald was vandalized March 21, 2019. A new review of Newfoundland and Labrador's statue shows more problematic figures are celebrated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A review of statues that commemorate colonizing figures in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history has reignited criticism of “discovery” narratives glorified in the province’s culture.

There have been renewed calls from politicians, Indigenous leaders and many residents to put an end to “Discovery Day” — a provincial holiday celebrating John Cabot’s 1497 arrival that falls on the Monday nearest June 24th.

NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell, whose group represents approximately six-thousand Inuit people in southern Labrador, wrote to Premier Dwight Ball this week asking the government to end official observance of the holiday.

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City councillors in the provincial capital voted two years ago to refer to the holiday as “St. John’s Day,” but the province has yet to make a similar change.

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In a statement, Russell said the “discovery” narrative borrows from the so-called doctrine of discovery, a historical legal concept used to rationalize the theft of Indigenous land.

He said discontinuing the holiday would be a positive act of reconciliation during a worldwide movement against systemic racism.

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Russell says the time has come to rid our society of these symbols of colonization and oppression.

Statues commemorating Confederate generals, colonizing explorers and others with a history of racism and oppression have been toppled and defaced around the world in recent weeks.

READ MORE: Christopher Columbus statues beheaded, toppled, burned, thrown in lake

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have drawn attention to one controversial figure standing in the capital city.

The statue across from the provincial legislature depicts Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real, who kidnapped 60 Indigenous people as slaves during a 1501 expedition, according to records cited on the Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador public history website.

The Corte-Real statue was a gift from the Portuguese government in 1965.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020.

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