Have you heard the great news? Canada and the Fist Nations are now reconciled! The Trudeau government is renaming the Langevin block building, named after Hector-Louis Langevin, out of respect for Indigenous Peoples. Not only that, but there is also a push to rename Calgary’s Langevin bridge so as to erase the memory of the "social architect" of the hated residential school system.
|Sir Hector-Louis Langevin (1826-1906), Father of Confederation |
and Conservative party apparatchik.
Yes! As you can see in the picture, Langevin had a piercing charismatic gaze that kept Canada entranced long after his death. The poor Prime Ministers and Indian affairs ministers that came after him were thus powerless to alter, reform or abolish the Indian Act. What could those poor bastards do? Langevin was truly the personification of evil!
A bit of history
But enough of the “alternative historical facts” on which Canadians construct the self-validating parallel world in which they live. In the June 24th 2017 edition of Le Devoir, Emeritus Professor at UQAM Luc-Norman Tellier recounts a few historical facts that are worth summarizing here.
Namely, that Hector-Louis Langevin (1826-1906) was not the creator of the residential school system. The first residential schools were instituted long before Langevin became an MP. In fact, they were instituted as of 1820, six years before Langevin’s birth.
Furthermore, Langevin wasn’t even minister for Indian affairs when the schools were transformed into a system. Langevin was in charge of Indian affairs for only a year and a half, from May 1868 to December 1869, whereas the decision to turn the residential schools for First Nations peoples out West into a system dates from 1883 (thus 14 years after the end of Langevin’s mandate at Indian affairs).
Besides, Hector-Louis Langevin wasn’t even minister at Indian affairs when the Indian Act was adopted in 1876, nor when attendance at the residential schools was made mandatory in 1920. Finally, he is in no way responsible for the fact that the residential school system for First Nations lasted for more than a century, from 1883 to 1996 (Langevin died in 1906).
The responsibility of John A. MacDonald
Tellier then goes on to expose the responsibility of Sir John “Aryan race” MacDonald (what did you think the “A” stood for?) in this sordid affair. He does this by pointing out that in 2013, the governments of the North-West Territories and Nunavut and the foundation Legacy of Hope published a document titled “The Residential School System in Canada” where one learns (page 15):
- That it was Sir John A. MacDonald who, as both Prime Minister and Indian affairs minister, began the residential school system in 1883 by authorizing the construction of three such schools in the Canadian West;
- That it was on this occasion that Hector-Louis Langevin, in his capacity as a member of the cabinet and minister for public works, spoke out publicly to announce and support that decision, along with some of his fellow ministers;
- That, from 1883 to 1931, the number of federal residential schools went from 3 to 80, and that the number of residents went as high as 17000;
- That in 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, the high-ranking civil servant charged with the implementation of the Indian Act, made attendance mandatory at the residential schools.
Looking at these facts, it is clear that Langevin had a marginal role in the creation of the residential school system and cannot be held responsible for it. In fact, his posthumous moral execution seems to be based entirely on a statement he made in Parliament in 1883, which received support from his anglophone colleagues. Anyone familiar with the Canadian system of government knows that ministers are essentially the Prime Minister’s lapdogs. Whatever policies Langevin may have drawn up during his brief tenure as Indian affairs minister was done at the behest of his Lord and Master, MacDonald.
In any case, MacDonald had made equally damming statements regarding residential schools, for example this quote from 1883:
“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages. Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence.”
If any one man is to be held responsible for the residential school system, it can only be John A. MacDonald. And it’s not like MacDonald has nothing bearing his name. According to his Wikipedia page, a peak in the Rockies is named after him, a parkway and an airport in Ottawa carry his name, January 11th is Sir John A. MacDonald day, and of course the ten-dollar bill carries his grotesque likeness. And this is not even an exhaustive list! There are plenty of things Justin can rename or alter if he really wants to honor National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t care about Hector-Louis Langevin. As far as I am concerned, he was a Conservative party apparatchik who sided with the strong against the weak, and who sold out his people for personal gain. I couldn’t care less if a building or a bridge is no longer named after him. It’s just that there is something typically Canadian in making amends towards the First Nations by sacrificing the first francophone they see (one of the few francophone "Fathers of Confederation") while whitewashing the real history behind the residential school system. It’s typically Canadian because it’s typically cynical in a francophobic sort of way.