Memo raises doubts about who was ‘architect’ of residential schools – Politics

Federal officials raised doubts about accusations Hector-Louis Langevin was an architect of the residential school 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 Métis leader Louis Riel, who was hanged in 1885 for leading a rebellion in Western Canada.

The Feb. 27 memo for Public Services Minister Judy Foote reveals 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.

Hector-Louis Langevin, a Father of Confederation, was a prominent member of John A. Macdonald’s cabinet. In 1883, as public works minister, he allocated $43,000 for the construction of three schools for Indigenous boys, linking him to the residential school system. (Library and Archives Canada)

“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 or execution 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…

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