New Column by David Garneau
By David Garneau for Rungh, Vol. 8, No. 4
I am conflicted about the recent vandalism and destruction of colonial statues and churches in Northern Turtle Island. As a visual artist and writer who tries to make meaningful and well-made things, and who appreciates how difficult and fragile art and consciousness are, I distrust the direct, the rapid, and the destructive. As a reasonable person, as someone born with a preference for reason over passion, I am compelled to collect and evaluate the facts before coming to a conclusion and action. The problem with reason, however, is that it is too reasonable. Slow, cool calculations oil the machinery of the status quo and discourage passionate action—any disruptive action, really—beyond opinionating or art making. And at times like these, both reason and art fail to satisfy the desire for radical change.
Responding to the destruction of statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth “during events held at the Manitoba Legislature grounds in honour of the Indigenous children who died at former residential schools,”1 the Honourable Murray Sinclair (Anishinaabe) wrote on his Facebook page: “I am not at all impressed by acts of destruction such as this. The people who commit these acts and those who condone them, need to understand how much they set back any chance of moving the dialogue on changing the bad relationship we have, forward. Do you really think this is going to help? Of course you don’t. That’s not why you did it. You may have been instigated by those who want nothing to do with changing the relationship. You may have been instigated by people bent on making you look bad. You may have easily acted to do this because of the anger you feel and some sort of sense of getting even. I feel no pride in any of you who did this.”2
Sinclair is a reasonable man, a man of reason. But, as you can see, he is not without passion. His response, too, is personal: “I am not at all impressed.” Which is rhetorical irony. Clearly, the statue wrecking made a deep impression, just not a favorable one. The message begins and ends with his feelings: “I am not at all impressed,” “I feel no pride.” His feeling, it seems, is the measure against which these actions should be evaluated. He is concerned that the slow, cool machinery of “dialogue” might be stalled by those not abiding by his preferred approach to reconciliation. In his imagining, the demonstrators subscribe to his “dialogue” agenda but are being misled by (unnamed) disingenuous radical actors or strong feeling—which seems to amount to the same thing. This construction is painfully patronizing, but it may also express Sinclair’s own deep and chaotic feelings, as well as my own.