Memories in Stone: Confronting Colonial Monuments
Nadine Nakagawa, City Councillor, City of New Westminster
In May of 2019, the New Westminster City Council voted to remove the statue of Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie that stood in front of the provincial court house. This action was prompted by a call from the Tsilhqot'in National Government and echoed actions taken by the Law Society and UVic Law School. The removal prompted significant media attention which resulted in a backlash around the province. The Begbie statue is part of a larger public discourse on the role of colonial monuments in public spaces and how they not only reflect our shared history, but also suggest continued colonial control of future narratives. In removing the statue, the city has been accused of attempting to erase or rewrite history. History is often presented as objective when in fact there are multiple stories and perspectives on Judge Begbie and his actions. Judge Begbie’s memorialization in the form of statuary indicates a centring of settler perspectives while erasing the Tsilhqot’in’s historical telling of their government’s interactions with the judge. Additionally, in their stories on the statue removal, the media ignored the part of the motion that included opportunities to share different historical perspectives to create a fuller story. Instead, their focus was solely on the action of removal. Recontextualizing monuments to include both Indigenous and settler perspectives is one potential approach that has been suggested by many Indigenous people. Across the globe, artists and activists are confronting colonial monuments with a variety of interventions meant to highlight their contested historical narratives. Allowing for transformation and recontextualization provides an opportunity both to decolonize public spaces and to have a multi-perspective understanding of shared histories.
Nadine Nakagawa is a community organizer, local activist, and City Councillor in New Westminster. She has worked on issues relating to housing, public spaces, reconciliation, public engagement, and childcare. For her work in the community, Nadine was named the 2017 Citizen of the Year at the Chamber of Commerce Platinum Awards. She runs a consulting service called Ablaze and holds a Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Royal Roads University.