Mi’kmaw poet says committee to examine Cornwallis commemoration “good first step”

A Halifax municipal worker drapes a black tarp over the statue of Edward Cornwallis during a protest July 15/Photo by Stephen Brake

The Mi’kmaw poet who sparked Halifax Regional Council to rethink how the city commemorates its controversial founder is pleased a committee has been struck to examine the issue in the coming months.

“I like it. I think it’s a good first step,” Rebecca Thomas, Halifax’s Poet Laureate said on Thursday.

“At the same time, I’m also a little critical of the process. Keep in mind, this is a committee to have a conversation,” Thomas said.

“We went through six months of process and like, motion after motion simply to have a conversation,” she added.

Rebecca Thomas, 31, is Halifax’s poet laureate until April 2018/Photo by Stephen Brake

On Tuesday, Halifax Regional Council approved a staff report to create an committee that will make recommendations on how the city should commemorate the city’s founder, British officer Edward Cornwallis. The panel will also recommend how the city should commemorate the history of Indigenous people.

Council passed a motion 15-2 to accept a staff report. Two councillors, District 11 Councillor Steve Adams and District 13 Councillor Matt Whitman voted against the motion.

Council also approved a confidential report that made recommendations on who should sit on the eight-member committee during an in-camera session on Tuesday. According to a city spokesman, the names of the panelists will be announced at a later date.

“We’re currently in the process of reaching out to potential committee members to ask if they’re willing to participate on the committee,” Brendan Elliot wrote in an email Wednesday.

“A public announcement will be made once all eight members have been selected. We anticipate that will happen later this fall,” Elliot said.

“Not Perfect” poem about commemoration of Edward Cornwallis

The decision to examine the issue of commemorating Edward Cornwallis on municipal property came up in April after Thomas read a poem called “Not Perfect” in council chambers that criticized city’s current commemoration of Cornwallis.

Afterwards, District 9 Councillor Shawn Cleary made a motion to examine the issue of commemorating Cornwallis, who founded Halifax in 1749, on municipal property.  Regional council passed the motion 15-1 on April 25.

There have been calls by Indigenous groups over the past twenty years to remove a statue of Cornwallis in Halifax’s south end. Cornwallis had issued a scalping proclamation on Mi’kmaw men, women and children.

That call to remove the Cornwallis statue intensified over the summer when members of a group called “The Proud Boys” tried to interrupt a traditional ceremony taking place at the base of the statue on Canada Day.

In mid-July, more than 200 people gathered around the Cornwallis statue after a call was posted online to have the statue physically removed. After organizers spoke with city officials, they instead agreed to have the statue draped in a black cloth for a few hours.

The staff report recommended to create an eight-member committee with equal representation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Half of the committee members will be chosen from a list submitted by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. The other half will be chosen by regional council.

Committee members will each receive an honorarium of $150 per meeting up to $2,100. A budget for the committee has been set at $50,000.

In drafting the terms of reference, city staff connected with individuals and organizations such as academics, historians, staff with Nova Scotia Aboriginal Affairs, Parks Canada, the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society and Mi’kmaw historian and author Daniel Paul.

Thomas would like to see people from diverse backgrounds appointed to the eight-member panel.

“I’d like to see a youth representative. I’d like to see an elder, not just people with PhD’s and not just people with a collection of letters after their names,” Thomas said.

“I think it’s important to have a community perspective,” she said.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.