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McDONALD: So when does pointing out the obvious become click bait?

September 22, 2017 - 4:20 PM

Professor David Jefferess of UBC Okanagan thinks I’m the worst kind of sensationalist click-bait journalist, taking an interview with him about his workshop Commemorating Pandosy: Why and how are Settler Founders Remembered completely out of context.

He thinks I tilted the story away from his workshop with inaccurate reporting to the more provocative idea of renaming Pandosy Street. The headline? If Father Pandosy has a questionable history, should Kelowna be renaming one of its main streets?

He thinks I've destroyed any chance of having a rational conversation about it. All I thought I was doing was wondering out loud if Father Charles Pandosy should continue to be commemorated in Kelowna if it could be shown he was more of a colonial oppressor than a benevolent, father-like figure.

It’s a question being asked all over North America, as historical icons once revered are now being reconsidered. It’s a question Jefferess would like to ask in the controlled confines of a workshop setting. It’s a question I want to ask, screaming at the top of my lungs.

I don’t know professor Jefferess beyond spending what I thought was a pleasant 20 minutes discussing why Pandosy, like historical figures all over North America, should maybe not be reviled but at least revisited. He seems both passionate about historical redress and very knowledgable about Pandosy himself.

I’ve long been curious but I also don’t really know much about Father Pandosy, beyond what I can glean from the Web and a tour of the Mission.

Most locals know of Pandosy through the street that bears his name or perhaps through a school visit to the Father Pandosy Mission, the common name for the historic site of the Immaculate Conception mission.

Established in 1859 near present-day Mission Creek, Pandosy and his fellow Oblate missionaries used it as a base to minister to natives in a large area to the south.

Pandosy was only in the area of what would become Kelowna for two years before being transferred away, often for years at a time, to a handful of other Oblate missions throughout the Pacific Northwest, returning to the Okanagan in 1874 and again 1887.

He died in Penticton in 1891 and by the early 1900s, the mission and its surrounding farmland had been broken up and sold off. Only a last-ditch effort in the 1950s saved the site from the wrecking ball.

Pandosy’s final resting place is quiet now, on private land marked by a replica church in a hay field, but one could argue the locals of the day couldn’t have loved him that much given his grave was ploughed over and lost for over 50 years.

During our conversation, Jefferess talked of how syilx children placed in the care of the mission school began dying off and their parents soon began pulling them out. Sounds like child abuse to me, even if it was merely intensive physical discipline rather than something more sinister.

Do I think Pandosy personally abused children? I hope not, but there’s no doubt he was the head and face of colonialism in the Okanagan Valley, running a proto-residential school some years before the Canadian government made it official policy and with all that entails — assimilation through religion and the supression of culture.

And even as he sought indigenous souls, Pandosy encouraged white settlers to claim land throughout the valley and soon the syilx were being pushed onto reservations, mostly on what was then marginal land. It’s only an accident of history (and perhaps karma) that some of that land is now amongst the most valuable in the Okanagan Valley.

Certainly my headline was designed to draw in the reader but more than that, it is the entire process of re-examining our colonial past taken to its logical conclusion.

As a journalist, if I were told today of a hypothetical church-run school where children had begun dying, the first question I would ask would be what about the children, were they abused?

And as a human being, the next question I would ask is, if true, why are we commemorating the man who established it?

A statue of Father Charles Pandosy.
A statue of Father Charles Pandosy.

This is where the process of reconciliation is heading as it already has in debates over Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and Lord Edward Cornwallis, founder of Halifax — should we take down the public memorials commemorating historical figures, who by today’s standards, could be considered criminals?

Maybe Father Pandosy doesn’t fall into that category, but I know posing that question in a headline is going to kick start a discussion, for better or worse.

To be fair, Kelowna has no large history of venerating Pandosy. Beyond a street name and a relatively small statue, no busts of him stand in Kelowna city hall, no arch proclaims his greatness.

(A statue does exist of Father Pandosy, a life-size figure that gazes down not from a pedestal, but from his imposing height, apparently well over six feet).

For the record, no one from the Westbank First Nation has been calling publicly for the statue’s removal. Indeed, they were consulted beforehand and gave their blessing to a design that included indigenous themes. Nor has the band asked that Pandosy Street be stripped of its name.

But how could they possibly forget? Can there be anything more in-your-face, we-won-and-you-didn’t than naming a major street after the man who represents the beginning of the end of life as they knew it? And could there by anything more symbolic of reconciliation than ending that commemoration by removing it?

Syilx Street - It's got a nice ring to it.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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