More than 200 people who gathered at a small park in Halifax Saturday cheered as municipal workers, using a boom truck, draped a black tarp over the statue of the city’s founder who issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaw men, women and children.
The tarp was a compromise between Halifax Regional Municipality and organizers of the gathering who wanted the bronze statue of British officer Edward Cornwallis permanently removed.
“We’re following the directions of our elders and they wanted him symbolically removed,” said Suzanne Patles, one of the organizers for Saturday’s rally.
“It’s part of the ceremony that our elders wanted. They wanted him blanketed with a black cloth,” Patles, a member of the Eskasoni First Nation, said.
Earlier in the week, Patles created an event on Facebook calling for the permanent removal of the statue from Cornwallis Park.
That prompted Halifax Mayor Mike Savage to issue a statement, asking the organizers to allow an expert panel decide what to do with municipal property that bear Cornwallis’ name, including the statue.
“What I didn’t want was people climbing on top of the statue, falling off and getting hurt or doing something that was dangerous to themselves or to the monument in the short term,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said following the ceremony.
However, the black tarp was removed from the statue hours after the gathering had ended on Saturday afternoon and replaced with a orange one only partially covering it. By Sunday morning, the orange tarp was also removed from the statue.
Repeated calls for removal of Cornwallis statue
Edward Cornwallis was a British officer who founded Halifax in 1749. That same year, he issued a scalping bounty on all Mi’kmaw people.
For more than 20 years, there have been repeated calls from various Indigenous people for Halifax Regional Municipality to remove Cornwallis’ name from municipal property, including the removal of the statue.
That call ramped up on Canada Day when an Indigenous women from British Columbia, Chief Grizzly Mama, performed a ceremony at the statue in which she cut her hair to mourn suffering of Indigenous people. During the ceremony, several men belonging to a group called Proud Boys arrived at the park to try to disrupt the ceremony.
In April, Halifax Regional Council passed a motion 15-1 to set up an expert panel to examine and make recommendations on the issue of commemorating Cornwallis on municipal properties that bear his name.
The panel is also expected to advise Halifax Regional Council how to commemorate Indigenous history within Halifax Regional Municipality.
According to Mayor Savage, the members of the expert panel are expected to be announced during the council’s first meeting in Sept.
“Take him down like they took down Saddam” – Elizabeth Marshall
The gathering began with opening remarks from Elizabeth Marshall who lives in Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton.
“When the elders instructed us, they told us to take this symbol of genocide down. They said take Cornwallis down,” Marshall said to the crowd through a bullhorn.
“I interpreted that to mean we’re going to take him down like they took down Saddam,” Marshall said as the crowd cheered.
Mi’kmaw elder Isabelle Knockwood from the Indian Brook First Nation, N.S., then performed a smudging ceremony at the base of the statue.
Once the black tarp was over the statue, drummer began singing the Mi’kmaw honour song and afterwards, everyone held hands to take part in a large round dance.
There was an attempt by an individual who would only identify himself as “Edward Cornwallis, Jr.” to disrupt the event. The man, who was holding up a Union Jack flag, was stopped by Halifax police officers from moving closer to the gathering.
“Declaration for a Call To Action” issued
Following the ceremony, Patles read aloud a “Declaration for a Call to Action” to the crowd. The declaration calls on the Halifax Regional Municipality to immediately remove the Cornwallis statue and host a peace assembly to facilitate reconciliation.
The declaration also calls for an expert panel made up of Indigenous people and representatives from Halifax Regional Municipality to ensure the names of all public parks and places are respectful of Indigenous people’s history and reflect that history.
It also calls for the panel to identify other acts of reconciliation for implementation.
The declaration gives Halifax Regional Municipality a deadline of October 1 “to provide on the progress on these Calls to Action in time for Mi’kmaq History Month.”
Mayor Savage agreed to take the declaration to regional council on Tuesday.
“I’m hoping that it would be good faith that the demands are met but also, if they are not met, we are committed to taking action again,” Patles said.
“The fight is not over. We are not pacified by this declaration being passed on or like this event being a symbolic removal. We’re adamant that we want Cornwallis removed and we state that he is a symbol of genocide, hatred and bigotry,” she said.
“We want those type of things to be removed from Halifax Regional Municipality,” Patles said.