Opinion: Mr. Prime Minister, It’s Time to Re-name the Langevin Block.
- Sheri Benson, MP Saskatoon-West | June 20, 2017
The Prime Minister’s Office, the seat of power in our parliamentary system of government, is located in the Langevin Block, named after Sir Hector-Louis Langevin - one of the chief architects of Canada’s Indian Residential School System.
Let that sink in for a moment. At a time when the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry is just getting started, and as the government is spending millions of dollars to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation, that same government is also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to deny Indigenous children the right to the same funding as other Canadian children. Need I say more?
Because of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we now know what the goal of Canadian Aboriginal Policy was for over a century.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report Executive summary states : “The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy (Canadian Aboriginal Policy), which can best be described as 'cultural genocide'”.
Since the release of the TRC’s final report, many have called on the government to re-name the Langevin Block. So what’s the hold up?
NDP MPs Romeo Saganash and Georgina Joibois, along with Liberal MPs Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Dan Rusnick and independent MP Hunter TooToo, joined together across party lines to call on the Prime Minister to re-name the building. MP Saganash is “befuddled” as to why the government hasn’t announced the renaming of the Langevin Block.
In an interview with CBC, MP Saganash explained why renaming the building is important; “Every day, at work, I remember the man (Langevin) who dreamed up the school I was sent to, to purposely sever my connection to my family, my people and my nation.”
The case to re-name the Langevin Block is compelling, but governments have a knack of saying everything is complex and not as simple as you think. Hogwash! This is just what governments say. It’s the equivalent of saying "we will get back to you".
I would suggest the Prime Minister take a page from Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary City Council on this one. After the release of the final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Calgary resident started a petition to the change the name of the city's Langevin Bridge. The Mayor said yes. What he actually said was, “This stuff is easy”. Lo and behold, nine months later, Calgary City Council re-named it "Reconciliation Bridge". Well done, Calgary!
Perhaps you've heard what some non-indigenous folks have said on the subject: "If we re-name one building, we are focusing too much time on one individual." We'd better be careful we don’t start re-naming buildings “en masse," said Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and former Liberal MP, in an interview on CBC. I like and respect Bob Rae on many fronts, but in this case, he’s got it wrong.
The Langevin Block isn’t just ANY government building, it is the seat of power in our Canadian democracy. The Langevin Block is the Canadian equivalent of the White House. How can our Prime Minister govern our country from a building named after a man who, in 1883, spoke these words in Parliament:
“The fact is, that if you wish to educate those children you must separate them from their parents during the time they are being educated. If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they still remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes-it is hoped only the good tastes-of civilized people.”
Mr. Prime Minister, on the eve of National Aboriginal Day, I ask you to show that you are truly committed to truth and reconciliation. You have an opportunity to start the next 150 years in a positive way: let us honour the truth and re-name the Langevin Block. It’s time.