More than three months have passed since the toppling of the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II statues at the legislative building. It has been reported that for the past two months, 90 soldiers from Manitoba have been training to serve the queen from Oct. 4 to 22. The timing cannot be a coincidence. It appears officials assume the public has forgotten the racist institutional response to the action Indigenous people took against the symbols of colonialism. But it also seems the government is prioritizing reconciliation with Queen Elizabeth II over the Indigenous people the statues offended.
The famous self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde once said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” By this, Lorde meant the knowledge structures that facilitate systems of oppression must be dismantled before true liberation is possible for marginalized groups. Oppressors can never, and will never, become saviours.
Indigenous populations may find this quote resonates with them considering their long and difficult confrontation with colonial institutions — confrontations which are systemically organized to place them on the losing end of conflicts. In the process, they continue to lose their ancestral lands and rights.
Token actions of change have been made along the way in an attempt to scab an unhealing wound, but these performative gestures have mostly been institutional attempts to quiet the screams these wounds have produced. For the most part, hollow efforts by lawmakers, private interest groups, legislators and parliamentarians have been Band-Aids on shark bites.
For example, five years ago a group of activists noticed there was no tribute to First Nations people on the legislative grounds. Even the atrocities of the Holodomor are commemorated due to the large Ukrainian population residing in Winnipeg. However, none exist for the atrocities First Nations had to endure on the very land where the monolithic gears of colonialism continue to churn.
Last year, the province agreed to invest in a statue of Chief Peguis — the chief who played a crucial role in negotiating Treaty 1 and aided settlers on Indigenous land — by 2024. However, the statue had to share a public space with the statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. These two figures of the English monarchy visually memorialized perpetuators of genocide. For Indigenous people, the statues were more than just damaging symbology — they were an open embrace of settler colonialism and the collective trauma it caused.
As a result, on the momentous afternoon of July 1, 2021, Indigenous people gathered in outrage after the unearthing of mass graves found at various residential schools to express their indignation. The group proceeded to tear the colonial statues down. Many described the political demonstration as a collective moment of catharsis. Indigenous people took matters into their own hands, laid down the tools of their oppressor’s house and symbolically took the first step toward ripping the house down.
Settler institutions responded with rage. Then-premier Brian Pallister promised retribution. He then went on a racist tirade glorifying the history of colonialism which later culminated in his demise as the premier of Manitoba. British representatives also condemned the actions.
An excerpt from the famous social theorist Frantz Fanon’s seminal book The Wretched of the Earth best describes these colonial responses to Indigenous Manitobans’ social action.
“The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because [they] constantly refer to the history of [their] mother country, [they] clearly indicate that [they themselves are] the extension of that mother-country. Thus, the history which [they] write is not the history of the country which [they] plunder but the history of [their] own nation in regard to all that she skims off, all that she violates and starves,” he writes.
The constructed history Fanon refers to has clearly influenced the decision to extend a peace offering to the British crown. By sending Manitoban military forces to guard the figurehead of settler-colonial states around the world, Canada is revalidating its commitment to imperialism. This politically charged expression of solidarity should not fly under the radar. The timing is clearly correlated to the toppling of the statuary at the legislative building.
Dialogue surrounding the statues and this horrific history should remain open, but how long can Indigenous populations stand using the same tools that were used to construct their marginalization? How long until they are treated with respect?
The truth is, there is no perfect solution to reconciliation and decolonization. These decisions are, and should be, up to Indigenous populations. However, disassociation from the crown and colonial figureheads should be a minor first step. Putting the truth of genocide first, recognizing Canada and its various western institutions’ role in these injustices and extending uncontested self-determination to Indigenous populations is far more constructive than empty, white-led discourses about reconciliation. As activists shouted during the wresting of the statues, there is “no pride in genocide.” It is time to surrender the oppressor’s tools.