By Paula E. Kirman
Around 500 people gathered outside the Alberta Legislature on Aug. 26 for an anti-racism rally organized in response to Charlottesville, Virginia, where people affiliated with the “alt-right” protested against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Lee was the leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War, the side that was fighting to uphold slavery.
This situation has spawned discussion as to the difference between remembering someone in history without celebrating them, if their behaviour, attitudes, and policies have been dubious.
The rally held up Frank Oliver as an example of such a person. Oliver, an MLA from 1905 to 1911 and the publisher of Alberta's first newspaper, used his influence to have the Papaschase Cree removed from their south Edmonton Treaty 6 Reserve, called for tighter controls on immigration, and drafted a law forbidding Black people from immigrating to Canada.
A major theme of the rally was to pressure the City to remove Frank Oliver's name from the Oliver neighbourhood.
“We hear these questions, like, “This is ancient history; How does it affect me?' My grandmother was raised by her grandmother who was born on the Papaschase First Nation. She had to leave when she was 12 years old. She had to leave her home she had been in for her entire life up to that point,” said Conor Kerr, a direct descendant of Charles Bateau Gladue, headman for Chief Papaschase when Treaty 6 was signed. His family is connected to the Lac Ste Anne Métis and Enoch Cree Nation. Kerr currently works as a FNMI education consultant with Edmonton Public Schools.
Kerr's great-great grandmother eventually returned to Edmonton in the 1950s.
“Can you imagine coming back into a territory that looks completely different than the one you left, the one you were born and raised in, and how that would feel to have areas celebrating the people who actively worked to kick you out of that area?” he asked. “We need to start acknowledging all areas of history, not just the good and bad, but everything that is out there.”
Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papaschase First Nation was not available to speak at the rally, but on the event's Facebook page organizers said he had been consulted and given the rally his support.
Later in the rally, an Indigenous man who identified himself as Jeff, spoke passionately about missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as being critical of how the government and police are dealing with this issue.
“The families are the ones hurting the most and need support,” he said, as the father of three young daughters. “It's tough seeing the families go through that and not being honoured and being disrespected. It's time to stand up for the missing and murdered women because they have no voice.”
Other speakers, such as Black Lives Matters' Bashir Mohamed, addressed issues local to Edmonton and Alberta, such as the practice of “carding,” also known as street checks, which a recent investigation exposed that Black and Indigenous people in Edmonton are subject to such police tactics at a far higher rate than white people.
Speaker Ufuoma Odebala-Fregene, a legal professional with an extensive background in Canadian immigration law, policy, and practice as well as entrepreneurship and human rights compliance, talked about how the media can perpetuate hatred though false news. Youth Poet Laureate, organizer, and activist Nasra Adem closed the rally with a poem.
An online petition to remove Frank Oliver's name from the Oliver neighbourhood is online: https://www.change.org/p/city-of-edmonton-remove-frank-oliver-s-name/nftexp/ex1/control/767968003?recruiter=767968003&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_petition&utm_content=ex1%3Acontrol