Sir John A. Macdonald scrubbed from Scottish government websites
Published Thursday, August 23, 2018 12:23PM EDT
As Canada continues to wrestle with the controversial legacy of its first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, the country where he was born is distancing itself from him by removing all references to the polarizing figure on its government websites.
On Thursday, the Scottish government acknowledged in a statement to CTV News that it had removed articles about Macdonald’s legacy from Scotland.org, a government-run promotional website, following the “legitimate concerns” raised by Canadian Indigenous groups.
“While we want to celebrate the very positive contributions Scottish people have made across the world, we also want to present a balanced assessment of their role and are reviewing the wording of these articles in that light,” the statement read.
An attempt to visit a former feature article titled “Sir John A. Macdonald: Son of Scotland, Father of Canada” on the website is now met with a 404 error message and the text: “We dinnae ken where the page has gone. Try searching for your query.”
Additionally, references to the Sir John A. Great Canadian Kilt Skate, an annual event funded by the Scottish government that encourages Canadians to skate in kilts on the anniversary of Macdonald’s birthday in January, have also been scrubbed from the website.
“We will continue discussions with Kilt Skate organizers and Indigenous representatives on the branding and purpose of the event before taking a decision in respect of future funding,” the statement said.
Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1815. He immigrated to Britain’s North American colonies when he was five years old and became Canada’s first prime minister in 1867. He has long been praised for his leading role in joining the three provinces in Confederation and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Despite his role in the country’s formation, Macdonald’s government was responsible for the introduction of the residential school system that saw nearly 150,000 Indigenous children taken from their homes and forced into state-funded boarding schools where they weren’t allowed to speak their languages or observe their cultures. Many children suffered abuse and some died during their time in the school system.
In 1879, Macdonald was quoted as saying that children should be isolated from their parents and placed into industrial schools in order to “acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
The legacy of the residential school system continues to be a sore spot in relations between Canada’s Indigenous population and the government as well as a major impediment to reconciliation efforts.
Concerns about Macdonald’s questionable treatment of First Nations have resurfaced in recent weeks following the City of Victoria’s decision to remove a bronze statue of him from the steps of city hall earlier this month.
The monument was removed as part of the city’s reconciliation efforts with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
“Family members and other Indigenous peoples do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps wrote in a blog post justifying the city’s move.
Victoria is not the only place grappling with how to respect Indigenous concerns about Macdonald’s legacy without erasing the past. In recent years, there have been growing calls to remove other statues of him across the country along with his name from buildings, such as schools.
A statue of Macdonald in Montreal has been repeatedly vandalized by groups calling him a “white supremacist” and the temporary plaque replacing the Victoria statue was spray painted a day after it was installed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government hasn’t announced any plans for the removal of Macdonald’s name from federal buildings or statues of him. In response to the controversy surrounding Victoria’s decision, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said knocking down statues wasn’t the best way to address Canada’s troubled past.
“I personally believe that it's important that we recognize our history -- the good and bad -- and that we tell stories, because it's by telling stories that we will recognize that we can do better,” she said last week.
For their part, Glasgow city officials approved the demolition of the building presumed to be Macdonald’s birthplace in 2017 to make way for a condo development.