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Memo raises doubts about who was 'architect' of residential schools

Memo raises doubts about who was 'architect' of residential schools
From CBC - August 13, 2017

Federal officials raised doubts about accusations Hector-Louis Langevin was an architect of the residentialschool system four months before his name was ignominiously stripped from the prime minister's building, as the Liberal government acceded to complaints from Indigenous groups.

An internal briefing note says Langevin had a "complex" relationship with Canada's Indigenous peoples and even tried to spare the life of Mtisleader Louis Riel, who was hanged in 1885 for leading a rebellion in Western Canada.

The Feb. 27 memo for Public Services MinisterJudy Footereveals the government grappling with a troublesome tangle of historical accuracy, Indigenous grievances over the tragedy of residential schools, and the symbolic significance of public building names.

"While he has been referred to in the media as an architect of the Indian residential school system, a historian at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada indicates that his relationship with Indigenous peoples is more complex," says the memo, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

"Various histories and academic articles written on residential schools make no mention of his role or impact in the development orexecution of the residential schools policy."

"Moreover, during the 1885 Northwest Rebellion and the subsequent trial of Louis Riel, he attempted to intercede with the prime minister for Riel's clemency and the commutation of his sentence."

The memo, signed by deputy minister Marie Lemay, was triggered after National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations wrote to Foote asking that the Langevin Block, the building at 80 Wellington St. in downtown Ottawa that houses the Prime Minister's Office, be renamed.

4 Indigenous MPs seek removal

Bellegarde's Feb. 6 letter said that "key architects of the devastating Indian residential school system include prominent leaders of the past such as Hector Langevin."

Ten days later, four Indigenous MPs also wrote to Foote, pressing for the removal of the name because "Langevin was also the creator of residential schools."

"We do not believe this way of thinking should be celebrated by naming a building after Langevin," said the letter, signed by the NDP's Georgina Jolibois, Liberal Don Rusnak, the NDP's Romo Saganash and Hunter Tootoo, formerly a Liberal and now an Independent.

The memo to Foote suggested preserving the name of Langevin on the building, but adding a plaque about his contributions to Canada "while also highlighting the contested aspects of his legacy."

'It is reasonable to anticipate opposition.' Memo from deputypubic services minister

Lemay also said the name could be changed to that of an Indigenous person, a non-Indigenous person, a place or an event in Canada's past.

"It is reasonable to anticipate opposition from those who wish to preserve the commemoration of the name and contributions of Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, as well as support from those who want the name changed, including Indigenous groups," she wrote.

Government officials declined to release to CBC News material from the historian at Indigenous Affairs who is cited in the memo as unable to find evidence of any roleLangevin played in establishing residential schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's comprehensive 2015 finalreport into residential schools, however, does trace their establishment back to Langevin, who as public works minister in 1883 allocated $43,000 for the federal government's first three industrial schools for Indigenous boys.

Echoes of Macdonald's speech

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