Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Why Cornwallis Must Come Down: My Letter to Mayor and Council

Mayor and Councillors,

I am writing to you today in support of the motion to immediately remove the statue of Edward Cornwallis, to place it in temporary storage, while broader dialogue is undertaken with both the Assembly of Mi'kmaq Chiefs of Nova Scotia, and with the citizens of HRM.

On December 8, 2015, Halifax Regional Council unanimously adopted a statement of reconciliation, committing to  "a new equal partnership with Aboriginal people in Canada; one based on truth, dignity, and mutual respect."  

Indeed, Reconciliation is impossible without truth, even when those truths are difficult to face. There are some simple facts about our history that we need to acknowledge. For starters, that the Mi'kmaq were here, in this place, Kjipuktuk, for millennia before Cornwallis arrived. As the Mi'kmaq Chiefs wrote to Cornwallis in September, 1749:


"The place where you are, the place where you live, the place where you are building a fortification, the place where you want now to establish yourself, the place of which you want to make yourself the absolute master, this place belongs to me. I come out of this earth like a blade of grass, me, the Indian, I have been born there the son [and] from father to son. This place is my land, I swear it. It is God who has given me this land to be my homeland forever."

We also need to acknowledge that the founding of Halifax, without the consent of the Mi'kmaq, and in breach of the Treaties, provoked a six year war, with many casualties on both sides. And that the scalping proclamation was intended, in the words of Cornwallis himself to "destroy the savage commonly known as Micmac" and to "root the Micmac out of the peninsula", their homeland "decisively and forever". 

Unfortunately, many of us did not learn that history in school, and you would not learn it from visiting the Statue of Edward Cornwallis today, where his career is presented largely as one of unmitigated success.

If we are to achieve reconciliation, we must begin to acknowledge and educate people about those basic facts. For that reason, I think a process of broader public engagement and education is important.

But Statements of Reconciliation are also meaningless without action,  

The Mi'kmaq have sought justice and recognition of their rights since Cornwallis first arrived in this Harbour. There have been better periods in the relationship, such as the signing of the Treaty of 1761 at Governor's Farm (now the Courthosue on Spring Garden) with a ceremonial burying of the hatchet. And there have been darker period, the period after the founding of Halifax being among the worst.

It is true that we cannot change history. If Edward Cornwallis had sought the friendship and the consent of the Mi'kmaq before founding Halifax, our history might be very different today. We can't say for sure, and we can't change the past. What we can change is what aspects of the past we choose to celebrate, in a way that better reflects the relationships we want in the present.

What aspects of our history we celebrate say something about who we are, and the relationships we want to have. We need to acknowledge the difficult periods in our history in order to learn from them. Choosing to celebrate one of the worst periods in Mi'kmaq-British relations in Nova Scotia, while ignoring some of the moments of friendship and true treaty partnership, does not result in a balanced understanding of history, nor is not going to result in a relationship different than that which we have now.

We also cannot erase history. Like most, I want the full history of Cornwallis to be taught. We need to learn from our mistakes. But I do not think that a statue that honours him and celebrates his accomplishments while completely ignoring the terrible aspects of his legacy is teaching anyone anything of value.

If we want a better relationship with the Mi'kmaq, then we need to revisit the spirit of the Peace and Friendship Treaties that brought us together. We need to honour those ancestors who worked toward a better relationship, and not just those like Cornwallis, who said that "Treaties with the Indians are nothing, only force will prevail".

To improve that relationship, I think you need to take action, and honour the request of the Mi'kmaq to immediately remove the statue, and initiate a broader dialogue while we decide whether the statue can be placed in a more appropriate context, or whether it should be replaced entirely by something that better reflects our shared history.

As a father of two young children, both Mi'kmaw, I hope one day to be able to take them to what is now Cornwallis Park, and instead of a statue of a man who sought to exterminate their ancestors, to show them a monument that accurately honours and reflects our shared history (good and bad) and our shared aspirations.

I urge you to make history yourselves, and support this motion.

In Peace and Friendship,

Derek Simon
Dartmouth, NS

4 comments:

  1. Excellent letter, Derek. Thank you.

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  2. Awesome letter, Derek, very respectful, truthful and concise. Wela'lin.

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  3. You must have been very lucky to have a time machine to be able to go back and analyse and report back to us in the present .. almost like you're a super hero for diversity and community... I hope your son doesn't hate you too much when he grows up... oy vey .. libtardians.. you'll never learn will you.. ? Hard to believe how much damage that fluoridated water is doing to brains

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