MORRISBURG – Terry O’Reilly, representing a group of about 20 members of the Iroquois Community, approached council May 10th to advocate for putting “The Chieftain emblem” back on the Iroquois water tower as its refurbishment is being completed.
“Our sincere hope is to avoid unnecessary public controversy,” he said, as he went on to say that council’s decision to remove that emblem was an “innocent mistake of council,” in asking them to reconsider their previous decision.
“While there is a need for political correctness, there is also the danger of going in wrong directions if political correctness becomes excessive,” he said.
O’Reilly went on to say that the emblem is not offensive because it is not a disrespectful caricature.
“It’s respectfully presented and it’s removal eliminates the respect it shows,” he said, adding that the emblem being gone from the water tower would cause a loss, not an improvement because it is deeply tied to the heritage of those who grew up in this community.
At the end of his presentation South Dundas mayor Steven Byvelds pointed out that this decision had already been made twice, and, at the end of Monday’s meeting, South Dundas opted to make the same decision again for the third and final time. The majority of council voted in favour of the resolution which states that South Dundas’ two water towers will bear the town name and the South Dundas logo.
“This conversation was not borne from political correctness,” said South Dundas deputy mayor Kirsten Gardner. She added that there’s no disrespect towards the folks who put that depiction on the water tower in the 70s/80s. “But in 2021 the dialogue has changed and I think this is a good opportunity for South Dundas to show how times have changed. My intention is not to disregard or disrespect, but there is a risk that the symbol, while it may be beloved, could be misinterpreted.”
She went on to add that she doesn’t agree with the symbol on the Morrisburg water tower either. “Water towers are South Dundas municipal infrastructure and they should be labelled as such,” she said explaining the South Dundas logo being council’s choice.
“I’ve never looked at that emblem as disrespectful or demeaning, but times they are changing and if one person takes offense to that emblem then that’s one person too many,” said South Dundas councillor Archie Mellan. “It’s easy for me not to be offended by it, but I’m not indigenous.”He went on to say the elimination of that emblem does not diminish what Iroquois is.
“This is the time for us to have a unified image in South Dundas,” he added.
South Dundas councillor Lloyd Wells said that he was never against putting the emblem back on the water tower. “I know it means a lot to the people of Iroquois, and I’m not saying no.”
South Dundas councillor Donald Lewis was in agreement with Wells. “I was not against putting the Indian back on the water tower,” he said. “I think it should be back on the tower.”
This same division on council occurred each time this topic was discussed and just like all of the other previous occasions, the mayor was the deciding vote.
“There are times when leaders have to be leaders and deal with sensitive subjects,” said Byvelds. “Cultural appropriation doesn’t make any logical sense in this day and age.”
While O’Reilly had said the group he represents would canvass Iroquois with a petition to support keeping the emblem, Byvelds made it clear that such a petition, in this case, would not change his mind.
“They can do all the petitions they want. I’m not going to agree to keeping what was there. My mind is set,” he said.
Gardner added that she never wants to see the corporation put in harm’s way, and that supporting what was being asked for in this petition, viewed under a 2021 lens, would subject South Dundas to a lot of negative feedback. “Things like this drive people away,” she added.
“It’s time to do what’s right. What was acceptable at one time isn’t acceptable anymore,” said Mellan.