How The Swift Removal Of A Canadian Statue Created A Model For Cultural Reconciliation


Last week, the city council of Halifax up in Nova Scotia voted to reconcile with local indigenous tribes and remove a controversial statue of the city’s founder. Within days, the statue was gone. A lonely plinth is all that’s left to remind the people of Halifax of their city’s founding father, Edward Cornwallis. A wigwam has been erected on the square as a small totem of victory.

The council has not decided where the statue will go. Some want it in the historical museum, others on the harbor docks, while others just want it gone for good. The move came in reaction to continued protests from First Nations Canadians, mostly Mi’kmaq, to remove a statue of a man who enacted an ethnic cleansing campaign against their people back in the 1740s.

A little history here: Cornwallis had been sent to Nova Scotia to build up the colony and found a fort, port, and city for the British crown. His previous gig was “pacifying” the Scottish Highlands (which meant boarding up families in their homes and setting the houses on fire). Upon arriving in Canada, he took land that had been promised to the Mi’kmaq in an earlier treaty. The Mi’kmaq rolled deep at the time and were part of the larger Wabanaki Confederacy who ended up going to war with Cornwallis and the British for taking their treaty-promised land.

The guerilla war started going poorly for Cornwallis, so he decreed that anyone who brought him a Mi’kmaq scalp would be paid a monetary bounty — a tactic that the British were using to great success in New England at the time. Cornwallis’ reasoning was that he’d quickly exterminate the Mi’kmaq so that there would be no one left to sow more resentment with the other indigenous communities around Nova Scotia and further afield in the British colonies.

Fortunately for the Mi’kmaq, this tactic largely failed but led to a wider war that lasted until 1755. Cornwallis didn’t stick around for the war as he was reassigned to go fight The Seven Years’ War in Gibraltar.

Cornwallis wasn’t Canadian. The country owes him nothing. He was a British officer who represented the British crown. Members of the Halifax City Council noted that they have no responsibility to a British colonizer when voting on whether to keep or remove his statue. More succinctly the council likened the removal of the statue to the removal of statues of other despots throughout history.

Councilperson Richard Zurawski laid it out before casting his vote, “that’s why we pulled down Saddam Hussein. That’s why we pulled down Lenin. History remains: it is written in books; it is discussed; it is in museums,” Zurawski argued. “So if we want reconciliation, we pull down the statue immediately.”

The move serves two purposes. One is to create an atmosphere of reconciliation with the Mi’kmaq people so as to move forward as a community. Two, it acknowledges that the founding and history of Canada is mired in tragedy. There are atrocities in all of our histories as Americans, Canadians, Argentinians, etc. that are flat out ignored much less uttered in a classroom. This ignorance has led to a sort of multiple personalities of history where the heroes we were taught to celebrate in school are often the vilest monsters for indigenous people. The removal of Cornwallis in Halifax feels like a bridge between those two realities.

Acknowledging that the founding of Canada — or America for that matter — often contains a darkness that still haunts people living today is a step in the right direction for reconciliation between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and those that came to call this part of the world home. It’s a simple act that speaks volumes.

(Via The Guardian)