Members of the Kingston region’s Indigenous community gathered Thursday evening to host a sacred fire at the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in City Park.
The organizers say it was a chance to do some healing following the discovery of the unmarked burial sites of 215 Indigenous children at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Following this discovery, Macdonald’s legacy has once again come under fire considering his hand in the residential school system and his treatment of the Indigenous populations during his time as Canada’s first prime minister.
Those at the event described a sacred fire as an act of prayer, where medicines are placed in the flames to send their prayers directly to the Creator.
Due to the intimacy of the act, media was told not to take images of the fire itself or the people around it.
“I’m Objibwe and Algonquin, and what we’re taught is that the ancestors can communicate through the fire, and can travel through the fire,” said Zoogipon Ikewe, who was at the event Thursday night.
“By having the sacred fire, we’re asking the ancestors to come and give us strength and support and help us with our healing,” Ikewe said.
The Indigenous community, along with non-Indigenous allies, covered the Macdonald statue at City Park in a red tarp.
“Partially, it protects him from vandalism, but most importantly it covers him from our sight,” Ikewe said.
The group of about 30 people say that they want the statue to come down, but that isn’t their job to do — they want the city to take on that responsibility.
Mayor Bryan Paterson joined the ceremony to share some words with the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community.
“I wanted to come to let people know that I’m listening, and I know that city council is listening,” Paterson said to the crowd Thursday.
The group says listening just isn’t enough. They say they will take action by staying by the sacred fire site for as many nights as needed until the statue is taken down.
It’s unclear how long the city will allow the tarp to remain, but Paterson said he did not want to interrupt the group’s sacred fire.
“I don’t know. I mean, certainly, I’m not going to intervene with what’s happening here. I want to be respectful of that.”