I’ve known the story of Alex Wuttunee Decoteau for quite some time now. A Cree Survivor of one of Canada’s now infamous Residential Schools. Son of one of Poundmaker’s Northwest Rebellion warriors. A superb athlete. Canada’s first Aboriginal police officer – a constable and later Sergeant in Edmonton’s early police force. An Olympian. That time he met King George V and received the royal pocket watch from the king’s own hand. And, finally, dying, shot down in the mud of Passchendaele just short of his thirtieth birthday.
I realize that Alex has been honoured by induction into the Edmonton and Alberta Sports Halls of Fame, that the Edmonton Police Service continually honours his memory, and that Edmonton has already memorialized him in the naming of the Decoteau walking trail in Aldergrove.
But. . .
In this Year of Reconciliation declared by Mayor Don Iveson at the final National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in this centenary year of the start of the war that killed so many so young, what could be a more appropriate gesture for our city than to erect a prominent monument – I suggest a statue in Churchill Square or in the plaza in front of City Hall – honouring a Residential School Survivor, an Olympian, Canada’s first aboriginal police officer, and a fallen war hero? Each November we repeat the words “Lest We Forget” as we consider the Cenotaph and the Fallen it represents. I think of the words of Justice Murray Sinclair as he opened the final day of the Edmonton TRC National Event: “Never Forget.” What better way to mark Edmonton’s Year of Reconciliation than a monument to an inspiring survivor of the Residential Schools? An heroic survivor to remind us of the quiet heroism of all the survivors, and in memory of all the children who were taken.
When I had the idea of #AStatueForAlex a few nights ago, I did what any Edmontonian would do: I tweeted it! I stuck Mayor Iveson’s and Councilor Oshry’s handles onto the tweet and was gratified by the positive response:
But I fear Alex won’t get a statue if there isn’t a buzz generated. If you think #AStatueForAlex is a good idea for our Year of Reconciliation, share the idea wherever you can: Twitter, Facebook, your own blog, the comments sections of news sites. And emails, letters, and calls to city hall, the Edmonton Arts Council and anyone else you can think of.
And learn, and share, and celebrate the story of Alex Decoteau far and wide!
Update, July 16, 2014: This afternoon I received a Tweet from Councillor Oshry in which he told me he was bringing forward a motion to Council instructing Administration, “in consultation with the Aboriginal Community and the Arts Council, to report to Community Services Committee describing options to identify how [the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Event] might be commemorated through a monument or public art piece.”
A short time later he tweeted that the motion had passed unanimously.
While, in the end, the monument or public art piece may not be #AStatueForAlex, the tremendously important thing is that the TRC, the National Event in Edmonton, and the Survivors seem almost certain to have a memorial in Edmonton.
Thank you Councillor Oshry for taking the lead on this matter, thank you Mayor Iveson for the support I know you have given the idea, and thank you Edmonton City Council for unanimously moving the vague idea of a monument further along toward becoming a reality.
Update, October 15, 2014: This morning a report was tabled before and approved by Edmonton City Council’s Community Services Committee concerning “Truth and Reconciliation National Event Commemoration”. It’s good to read about the artists the City has been supporting and plans to support in the future.
Things are moving along!
Update, November 26, 2014: I was awfully slow to learn of this, but in September it was announced that a new park in Downtown Edmonton will be named for Alex Decoteau thanks to the efforts of the students at Patricia Heights School. Fine news!
Update, February 1, 2016: It’s been a long journey with a whole of people working toward a fitting public memorial to Alex Decoteau but it looks like we’re almost to the end of the road. This morning, thanks to the good people at Art Rubicon, this call for “an artist or artist team to integrate a site-specific three dimensional artwork in Alex Decoteau Park” came across my virtual desk. Happy day!