Dear Mayor Mike Savage,
I recently attended the Halifax City Council Meeting to support the reading of the Declaration and Calls to Action given to you by Mi’kmaq rights holders at the Cornwallis Ceremony. I came hopeful for evidence of a strengthened commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, especially after your acceptance of a tobacco pouch along with the Declaration on Saturday.
I was very disappointed to hear your clarification afterwards that it could be several months before there is any decision on the fate of the Cornwallis Statue.
Before our city can take steps towards reconciliation, Council needs to reckon with some uncomfortable truths. One simple and crucial fact is that Mi’kmaq people were illegally dispossessed of their lands in Kjipuktuk. These lands that many of us now call Halifax had long been a place of sacred pilgrimage for Mi’kmaq communities, rich fishing and moose hunting territory, and the headwaters of a vital water highway, the Sipekne’katik (Shubenacadie) River.
When Edward Cornwallis arrived here as an English Governor in 1749, he was given the task of keeping peace with the Mi’kmaq Nation on their unceded lands. As you know, he instead broke the hard-won Peace and Friendship treaties to build an English settlement in Kjipuktuk, provoking genocide against Mi’kmaq communities in the process.
From what I understand, there have already been several studies and municipal processes to explore what the city of Halifax should do about a statue revering genocide and white supremacy in a public park. This is a statue that sits, as you said yourself at Saturday’s ceremony, on unceded Mikmaq territory. Surely we don’t need any more studies to show us that there can be no steps towards reconciliation here while Cornwallis’ statue remains standing.
At Ecology Action Centre, we have only just begun the long and uncomfortable process of reconciling our own complicity in the dispossession and erasure of Mi’kmaq communities on these unceded lands. We have much to learn about how we can best contribute to healing these harms, what it means to live in Peace and Friendship on these lands, and how we can work to care for these lands and waters in respectful relationships with Mi’kmaq rights holders.
As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has lain out, reconciliation does not come from empty land acknowledgements or offers of token involvement in colonial processes. Reconciliation can only begin when settlers and their governments and institutions truthfully reckon with the sometimes painful history of these lands. This history has allowed settlers to be the main beneficiaries of both the care with which Mi’kmaq communities have cared for these lands and waters, and the genocide that Cornwallis and others perpetuated.
Halifax needs to take responsibility for the harm perpetuated by the Cornwallis Statue. Mi’kmaq rights holders have kindly provided clear Calls to Action that offer our city a powerful opportunity to reconcile with our past history. Truly heeding these calls is part of an opportunity we are all being offered here in Kjipuktuk to chart a new vision that can reinvent relationships between Mi’kmaq rights holders and settler governments based on mutual understanding and respect.
I sincerely hope that you and your Council can accelerate the process of removing this harmful statue and respond to the Declaration and Calls to Action in the true spirit of Peace and Friendship.
Community Conservation Research Coordinator
Ecology Action Centre