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Op-ed: Cornwallis — it’s not about history, it’s about racism

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – On Saturday we draped a big ugly tarp over the Cornwallis statue, and for a brief few hours we were allowed to imagine a city that doesn’t aggressively insist on honoring its racist founder. Three hours later the city removed the tarp, and we were back to business as usual.  Even a weekend without Cornwallis was deemed too long.

These three hours were wonderful though. The statue should go, of course, but I thought seeing the tarp being put in place was extremely moving. I don’t think I was the only one who felt this.

Which brings me to the point of this op-ed.

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From the white men who write editorials in the Globe and Mail, to the ugly white supremacists who post on Facebook and Twitter, to the Cornwallis debates at Halifax Council there has been a lot of talk about the importance of respecting the historical record.

“They also took scalps,” “what about so and so, he wasn’t a nice guy either, you have to understand Cornwallis in the context of his time, you can’t rewrite history,” the statue lovers say.

“That the words fact- or evidence-based be added prior to “recommendations to recognize and commemorate” in the main motion, some councillors suggested.

“I apologize for the use of the word “Warpath”. Hopefully “cooler heads” will prevail whereby everyone’s heritage is acknowledged & respected,” tweets hothead councillor and dog whistler extraordinaire David Hendsbee.

All this misses the point. The discussion shouldn’t be about the historic record, it should be about the deep wounds inflicted over time by our city and province onto the Mi’kmaq – assimilation policies, racism, sixties scoop, residential schools, neglect, neglect, neglect, all facts beyond dispute, much of it still ongoing.  

Rather than focusing on the historic record we should recognize that the Cornwallis statue at this time has become the symbol of all these deeply hurtful things.

No doubt Cornwallis was a cruel leader and a pathetic excuse for a human being. But the Cornwallis statue must go, and must go now, even if we were to find that Cornwallis was donating to the United Way all along. Its continuing presence is hurtful and racist in that it’s telling the Mi’kmaq they don’t count.

We have been rewriting history ever since we renamed Kjipuktuk to Halifax, and it never was an issue. You really have to wonder why so many white people all of a sudden have a problem with it.

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  1. The irony is always lost on these folks. “Don’t erase our history”, “We need to respect and hold onto our traditional points of reference”, and all that while completely ignoring the fact their points of respect and tradition were created at the expense of another whole culture, thousands and thousands of years old, who is still living with, within, and all around their (relatively) brand new ‘tradition’.

    They aren’t even embarrassed about the worshiping alcoholic, murderous, raping, degenerates like Cornwallis, Columbus or J.A. MacDonald. Just as long as their heroes are ‘white’, the history is worn with pride. Sad, sad people, but not unlike, I’m sure, their colonial ancestors.

  2. Take the statue down, as a way to address reconciliation with First Nations people – that has to be priority one. This is no different than removing the Confederate statues in the Southern US. If people feel a need to keep the statue somewhere, then move it to a low-key location, add in information about the harm his policies did, make it into a museum-type of setting, and include Mi’kmaq history. Or scrap the statue completely – there’s enough European-based history in Halifax in architecture and monuments like Pier 21, and virtually no Mi’kmaq history. Seriously, way more good will come from this than “harm” to the historical record.

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