Sandy Casselman
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

MORRISBURG – Despite a resident’s threat to “call the minister,” three of the five Municipality of South Dundas’ politicians did not bend to pressure.

During a delegation at the May 10 council meeting, Iroquois resident Terry O’Reilly requested that council reconsider their previous decision to remove the “Chieftan emblem” from the village water tower. He said he was speaking on behalf of a “significant and growing” group of residents and business owners in the area, who feel the previous decision represents taking “political correctness to an excess.”

“I do want to be clear that I sincerely sympathize, and I do so as deeply as anyone, with the wrongs that were suffered by Indigenous People[s] through the residential school saga. We believe however, that that issue really has no relationship or bearing on this issue; none whatsoever,” O’Reilly said. “While we must try to rectify bad things, we must be careful not to dispose of things which are very good in the doing of that, things that are positive and respectful.”

O’Reilly didn’t say how the symbol was positive or respectful. He did talk about identity and heritage, not that of the Iroquoians who resided in the village originally, but rather of the descendants of those who displaced them.

“It is certainly a part of memory and heritage, to be sure, for many. It is a lasting respectful recognition, and it is indeed a longstanding part of the Iroquois community identity, and I think identity is the important word here,” O’Reilly said. “That said, if this alone would not move you to reconsider the decision, we also believe that given the extent to which the emblem has been, for many, deeply fastened to community identity, the decision also lacked adequate community consultation, and this will be our position going forward if we’re required to appeal for ministerial intervention.”

Councillor Don Lewis said he would vote for the “Chieftan emblem” again, while Coun. Lloyd Wells said he would vote in favour of it as well, since residents have shown they feel strongly about it. It was Deputy Mayor Kirsten Gardner, Mayor Steven Byvelds, and Coun. Archie Mellan who spoke for those not in attendance.

Gardner said there is another group of residents equally adamant that the symbol be removed. She drew attention to the potential residents, doctors, and other professionals South Dundas is looking to draw to the area and she said having an Indigenous symbol on a water tower for a non-Indigenous community could be a deterrent.

“Think about the way that it might be taken,” she said. “You’re putting a symbol on a water tower and it’s well documented that we haven’t solved the water crisis in some Indigenous populations.”

Gardner said the water tower is a municipal infrastructure and should be labeled as such, in a way that is uniform with the rest of the township. She said she also disagrees with the Canadian Tire symbol on the Morrisburg water tower.

“I think if there’s one person out there that would drive through South Dundas and take offense to the fact that that Indian emblem head is on the tower, that’s one person too many,” Mellan said. “It’s easy for myself to sit here and say I don’t find offense to it, but the fact is I’m not of Indigenous heritage or culture.”

Gardner suggested to O’Reilly that there might be another way to work together to honour the history of the area, one that does not include returning the symbol to the water tower. O’Reilly insisted it was not just a symbol of the past, but “an association and an identity that people still feel here,” he said, again, there is a “pretty strong position” with his group “to petition the minister on the lack of consultation.”

Byvelds said the symbol is cultural appropriation and made it clear that he would not change his decision. As for O’Reilly’s threat, Byvelds said council had been elected by residents to make these decisions, even when some of them are hard to make.

“Some may say we’re here now and we run the show, but it was their land at one time. The Iroquois used the Point as a gathering spot,” he said, pointing out that “we took over [their] land” and now want to use an Indigenous symbol to represent the area where this Indigenous group no longer lives. “It just doesn’t make any logical sense.”

Both Byvelds and Gardner reflected on the division this subject has caused in the community. Gardner said she was saddened the issue had been resurrected, as it could increase community division.

Byvelds called for a motion to create a township standard for water towers, which includes the South Dundas logo plus the name of the village. The motion passed 3 – 1 with Byvelds, Gardner, and Mellan supporting the motion, while Wells and Lewis opposed it.

“I wonder, did we even ask the Iroquois, ‘Do you mind if we put that up there?’,” Mellan said.

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