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Renewed opposition to Orillia's Samuel de Champlain monument
ORILLIA, ONT. -- As revolutions for racial equality happen world-wide, Orillia is facing a strong debate over one of their historical monuments.
A monument of Samuel de Champlain has stood at the heart of Couchiching Beach Park since 1925. It was removed for refurbishment in 2017.
The statue should to be reinstated by Parks Canada in July after several delays due to COVID-19. But many are fighting against its return, invigorated by anti-racist movements across the world.
The original monument portrays Samuel de Champlain at the top of the podium, with four Indigenous figures at his feet. It's a scene critics describe as racist. They want the monument banished for good.
Orillia resident Miranda Minassian is not Indigenous but identifies as a person of colour. For her, the monument is a painful reminder.
"Every day, it is a reminder that white is right, white is on top, and the rest of us are beneath," said Minassian.
Minassian says the monument shows the racist history of Canada and colonization, and how that has bled into systemic racism.
Parks Canada controls the structure and plans to reinstall it but after consultations with several groups.
"The re-imagining of the Monument and its associated figures will detail a more complete history of Champlain's arrival in the area and his interactions with First Nations, providing much needed context. Further consultation with stakeholders, including First Nations and the City of Orillia, about the plaque text and the other figures will take place later this year," Parks Canada said in a statement.
Minasssian feels that bringing the monument back, even with changes, misses the bigger picture. And she questions how consultations have unfolded.
"Why is it your table and who was invited? I think the idea that you get to handpick who's invited to discuss these issues delegitimizes the consultation process."
A few days ago, the monument's base was splashed with red paint. The base has since been covered with a tarp.
"I don't know who vandalized the statue," Minassian said. "But I do know, that they were screaming for a community to be heard."
"If you're more focused on red paint on the cement block than you are about Indigenous communities being without water, on people of colour being targeted by police, on unequal health care system and opportunities not being equally provided for all…then I want you to take a second and rethink where your priorities are," she continued.
Director of Bear Waters Gathering in Muskoka, Amanda Dale, is hurt and offended with the statue, and the plan to bring it back.
As an Indigenous woman, Dale thinks the statues misrepresent history.
"I think it's insulting. I think it's harmful. It promotes one narrative. It memorializes someone who shouldn't necessarily take the front stage," Dale said
She adds that not all Indigenous communities were involved in the reinstallation decision, and many have spoken up about the offensive nature of the statue. She said that, especially during a time like this, this shouldn't even be up for debate.
But near the monument's home on Sunday, many people were eager to see it return. Some call it art and a piece of history.
"It's been here all my life... I mean since I was a little child... so i think it should be here," said an Orillia resident, who recalls climbing the statue as a child and taking photos with it.
A rally in opposition to the monument is set for Canada Day.