Kingston artist pushes for Indigenous art next to Sir John A. Macdonald statue in City Park

Click to play video: 'Kingston artist hopes to inspire others as he addresses Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy'
Kingston artist hopes to inspire others as he addresses Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy
A Kingston artist unveils his take on the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald – Jun 9, 2021

A Kingston artist put up a temporary sculpture next to the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in City Park to push for Indigenous art to take a place next to the monument.

“I would like to see an Indigenous artist-designed piece to be installed in front of Sir John A. And the whole idea of that is to express their emotions and what all this means to them and get it into a piece of artwork,” said Pat Shea, standing next to his piece Tuesday.

Shea only had the piece up, something he referred to as “guerilla art,” next to the monument for a couple of hours before he took it away himself. He said a city staff member happened upon him when he was setting up, and told him to take it down. But, Shea said the piece was always meant to be temporary.

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The city said the following in a statement provided Wednesday:

“The staff person spoke with the artist about their work and they had a conversation that included referencing the city’s public art policy. It was communicated public art installations, temporary or permanent, require city approval and the artist indicated the installation would not be left in City Park because they intend to use it in an on-going way.”

Shea called the piece a “maquette,” which he says is not a completed piece, but something that might give an idea for a completed piece.

The sculpture showed two children being pulled away, one being pulled toward the sculpture of Macdonald.

Shea says he does not want to see a completed piece from his own idea, but rather he would like to see an original designed by a local Indigenous artist.

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“It was more of a conversation starter, to make sure that maybe we could get an Indigenous artist to design something because they’re better to address this issue than someone like me,” Shea said.

Before he set up his protest piece, Shea spoke about his idea with Lindsay Brant, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.

“I really appreciated Pat’s way of kind of opening that conversation up and then making space and creating space for other narratives and particularly Indigenous narratives to emerge as well,” Brant told Global News in an interview Wednesday.

Still, Brant said the implementation of the idea may be difficult.

“I feel like a lot of people are of the opinion of why don’t we just remove the statue? Why do we have to go and create art in front of it or around it to kind of have it live beside it and with it? So perhaps it might be challenging to find someone that would be willing to do that, but I think it would be great,” Brant said.

The recent discovery of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and the discussion over Macdonald’s involvement in the system and his treatment of Indigenous people has led many to once again question monuments such as the one in Kingston’s City Park.

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Just this week, Prince Edward County council voted to remove a Macdonald statue from its downtown core.

Click to play video: 'Picton reacts to removal of Sir John A statue'
Picton reacts to removal of Sir John A statue

Wednesday, the city put out a news release to address some of the concerns residents have expressed about the celebration of Macdonald’s legacy locally.

“This is an important community conversation. I can assure you that staff, councillors, and myself are listening to all of your comments and feedback and we’re committed to working with Kingstonians to find the best path forward,” said Mayor Byran Paterson in a statement.

The city also noted that it is in the process of redeveloping the plaques beside the City Park statue and the “Spirit of Sir John A.” locomotive in Confederation Park to “tell a more complete and inclusive account of their histories in a Kingston context.”

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This is work being done by the city’s history and legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald working group, which is comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members.

Some of that work is being done by Melissa Hammel, vice president of the First People’s Group, an Indigenous advisory firm that has been working with the city of Kingston over the last several years to help staff deal with its treatment of Macdonald’s legacy locally.

“How to deal with the history and the legacy is a moving target depending on what else is happening in the world. And I can say that in Kingston, this is something that the city has put a lot of thought into, and it’s been having this conversation long before statues started coming down around the world in a really public way in the last year,” Hammel said.

She said the news out of Kamloops was a “punch in the gut” for Indigenous communities affected by the residential school system, and something that will no doubt shape the conversation about colonial history in Kingston and across the nation going forward.

Hammel said right now, the group is focused on rewriting the information that will be present next to the Macdonald monuments in Kingston, but have also discussed going further.

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“We have heard from working group members in the six meetings that we had of the desire to create more of a visual impact than just changing words. And we’re in the middle of those conversations right now,” Hammel said.

Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access the 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419

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