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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Judson Remarks on Colonization Road Renaming

The following remarks were delivered by Councillor Douglas W. Judson at the March 22, 2021 meeting of the Committee of the Whole of Council of the Town of Fort Frances. Check against delivery.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It’s fitting, because that’s what this discussion tonight is about – historic racism and systemic discrimination in this community, and how we choose to memorialize or eliminate it.

Like many of the people who wrote to us, I am disappointed about how this process has unfolded and our missed opportunity to officially recognize that this discussion is inherently about reconciliation and systemic racism. I am concerned that people have seen this as an effort to bury that important conversation in process and generality instead of confronting it head-on.

By failing to confront the facts of colonization, we are missing a key opportunity to fulfill our stated commitment to reconciliation. I don’t feel that our approach, to this point, has demonstrated that leadership. And tonight I want to talk about what we can do moving forward to be more forthright about our commitments to Indigenous citizens.

Let me explain that further. While other communities with Colonization Roads have recognized the opportunity to lead a specific discussion about the need for reconciliation and the harm colonization has caused to people who live there, our council has not. Instead, we created a generic policy on road names, and I think we did that because some people wanted to distance themselves from the issue of racism and being unpopular if they took a position in support of reconciliation.

And despite what anyone says – and I heard it at committee – there was never a need for this policy. The town has named and renamed streets dozens of times in its history without this policy. Other municipalities have too. We have always had the legal authority to name civic infrastructure, and we have had legal guidance on why we should do so in cases like this.

The policy has served as a political smokescreen over any discussion about the real issues, and council has not taken an explicit position on those issues, as my resolution would have done. Instead of creating a working circle on colonization – like they did in Dryden – or simply committing outright to remove a hurtful name – as they did in Emo – we invited a debate on whether colonization is harmful.

The vast majority of the letters we have received express frustration at this. They reflect a disappointment that we have allowed a debate to fester about whether colonization is racist – when we ought to know better at this point. We have had repeated, clear guidance from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and our courts, about what colonization means for Indigenous people in Treaty #3 territory, and from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, on the inappropriateness of discriminatory civic names and symbols.

As a constituent wrote to me this week, “The process council chose has allowed space for a lot of awful complaints that made people feel that their pain needs to be explained repeatedly and that it is secondary to the minor inconvenience of others. Many have expressed that this delay has demonstrated that their thoughts, feelings, humanity, history, and the validity of their or their family’s trauma have been up for debate.”

I agree with that assessment. Our neutrality and silence on these questions has favoured the oppressive and has validated an undercurrent of racism instead of framing a socially productive discussion around the need for change.

I am frustrated that we continue to hear excuses for this process – that we needed to let “both sides” have their say. What are those sides and what is their say? It is not the job of council to find someplace in the middle of people who support reconciliation and people who don’t or refuse to acknowledge facts. And that is what our process looks like so far.

In this term of council, we have repeatedly articulated our desire to lead a journey of reconciliation. We did that in our Declaration of Intent and Friendship with the Agency One First Nations. We did that in our strategic plan. We do that at every single council meeting, with our territorial acknowledgement. If we are only willing to take those steps of reconciliation when it is easy or burdenless, then are we really on any journey at all?

I keep hearing from some that education is central to this issue. I agree with them. But the problem is that nothing council has done so far has been educational. We have left an open question unanswered about whether a patently racist ideology was really so bad. We have not framed a discussion and said where we stand.

Now that the writing is on the wall, with overwhelming public support, I see the goalposts moving. I hear some concerns that the new name of the road might be hard to spell or pronounce. I mean, the current name is 12 letters long, and we have multiple things in this community named for LaVerendrye. So, it is difficult to for me hear that as anything but fear that we might choose an Anishinaabe word. That is the exact type of attitude we need to address in this community by making it clear that this is a reconciliation initiative.

Tonight we need to answer that question, definitively, and recognize as a council that colonization is a concept we no longer wish to honour in our municipality. Moreover, we need to be forthright about recognizing this change as a reconciliation effort to generate a new name in that vein, with Indigenous consultation, just like our policy suggests.

If we are unwilling to do that, then I am afraid that our commitments to our Indigenous citizens and neighbours don’t look like they amount to much.

My suggestion to my colleagues tonight is that we can turn the page on this by framing the discussion for the next stage of the process in a better way. We can do that by telling the community what types of names we want them to propose.

If we are serious about our own stated commitments, we should be looking for names that reflect Indigenous history, culture, or language, or reconciliation, or our relationship as treaty people.

And so, Mr. Chair, my suggestion tonight comes from the citizen that I quoted earlier. She suggested that we select two names – one for each of the eastern and western portions of the road, that at least one of the names meet the criteria I described above, and that the new names be celebrated with a public ceremony and plaque once chosen.

I think it’s a good suggestion and is a way for us to move forward in a more positive, deliberate, and principled manner that reflects our commitment to reconciliation, if we truly mean it. I suggest we amend the resolution accordingly.

Thank you.

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