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Rethinking Macdonald

[Erin Sutherland]
PhD candidate Erin Sutherland is curating a performance series that examines Sir John A. Macdonald's role and impact on Indigenous/settler relationships.

When Erin Sutherland (MA’12) arrived in Kingston from Alberta five years ago, planning for the 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth had already begun. With a background in native studies, Ms. Sutherland decided to work on incorporating Indigenous voices and perspectives into the commemoration.

Her efforts led to “Talking Back to Johnny Mac,” a performance series that will focus on Macdonald’s role and impact on Indigenous/settler relationships. The series launched on Jan. 11, Macdonald's bicentennial, with a performance by Métis artist and scholar David Garneau. 

“Sir John A. Macdonald was obviously a complex person and part of a complicated history,” says Ms. Sutherland, a PhD candidate in the cultural studies program. “I see this series as a way for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to engage in this celebratory moment while adding to the conversation about the multiple sides of Canada’s first prime minister.”

Five interdisciplinary artists will produce site-specific performances that explore issues of colonialism and Indigenous identities. The performances will occur in public spaces and be open to everyone.

Ms. Sutherland’s PhD research focuses on Indigenous curatorial methodologies and, more specifically, Indigenous performance art. “The series is a perfect way to meld my PhD interests and my desire to engage in this bicentennial,” she explains. “I am also excited to bring diverse artists to Kingston who haven’t performed in the city.”

While many of the bicentennial events celebrate Macdonald’s contributions as a nation-builder, Ms. Sutherland believes it’s important to think critically about one of Canada’s enduring icons.

“Sometimes we forget about the ways our colonial past influences our present,” she says. “Some people have talked about how Macdonald was a man of his time, but policies he was a huge part of such as the Indian Act and residential schools still have very real impacts today.”

Ms. Sutherland is still finalizing the dates for the other performances by Leah Decter, Ayumi Goto, Peter Morin and Adrian A. Stimson.