Indigenous MPs urge government to rename parliamentary building
"This kind of thinking and sentiment should not be commemorated"
Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo has added his voice to a group of Indigenous MPs asking the federal government to change the name of a building near Parliament Hill named after one of Canada’s original advocates of the residential school system.
The MPs made the request Feb. 16, asking Public Services minister Jody Foote to start the process of renaming Langevin Block, a building facing Parliament Hill that houses the Prime Minister’s office.
The building, 80 Wellington St., is named after Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, a lawyer, journalist and politician from Quebec City who served as a minister under Sir John A. Macdonald’s government and notably as superintendent of Indian Affairs.
During that period, Langevin advocated for a residential school system that would separate children from their families with the goal of creating a more “civilized” people.
“If you leave them in the family they may already know how to read and write, but they still remain savages,” Langevin told Parliament in 1883. “Whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes—it is to be hoped only the good tastes—of civilized people.”
The passage was quoted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
“As Indigenous members of Parliament, we believe this kind of thinking and sentiment should not be commemorated,” Tootoo said in a Feb. 16 news release. “And we are not alone.”
Tootoo, himself a former residential school student, did not respond Nunatsiaq News’ request for an interview.
But he suggested during the Feb. 16 news conference that the building be re-named after an Indigenous Canadian.
The request extends beyond Parliament Hill; many national Indigenous groups have also made the request to see Langevin’s name removed from the building.
“This type of action that puts history in its rightful place and urges Canadians not to celebrate those who created systems that killed thousands of Indigenous children is something that we have to think about,” said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed in the same release.
Foote’s office has yet to respond to the group’s request, though the minister’ office has said it is committed to addressing the legacy of residential schools.
It’s not the first time Canadians have attempted to remove Langevin’s name from public infrastructure; a citizens’ group in Calgary petitioned the city to rename the Langevin Bridge in 2015, following the Truth and Reconciliation’s final report.
The bridge was later named Reconciliation Bridge.