NEWS
01/27/2018 14:38 EST | Updated 03/29/2018 17:04 EDT

N.S. First Nations Chiefs Call For Cornwallis Statue's Immediate Removal

"We have been more than patient to see movement on this."

Isabelle Knockwood, an elder of Indian Brook, calls for the removal of the statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who issued a bounty on the heads of indigenous people, in Halifax on July 15, 2017.
Chris Donovan/Reuters
Isabelle Knockwood, an elder of Indian Brook, calls for the removal of the statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who issued a bounty on the heads of indigenous people, in Halifax on July 15, 2017.

HALIFAX — The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs is calling for the immediate removal of the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown Halifax park.

In a statement Friday, the assembly said that the municipality's process to review the commemoration of the city's controversial founder is taking too long.

"We have been more than patient to see movement on this," Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation said in the statement. "The Mi'kmaq need to see action now, and that is why we voted for the statue to be immediately removed."

Amid a growing controversy over Cornwallis — a soldier who infamously issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaqs — Halifax councillors voted last fall to launch a special advisory committee to rethink how the city honours its founder.

Chris Donovan / Reuters
A protester participates in a smudge in front of the covered statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who issued a bounty on the heads of indigenous people, during a protest in Halifax on July 15, 2017.

The assembly said it agreed to work with the municipality, and it submitted names of Mi'kmaq representatives to sit on the committee.

However, the assembly said the committee has still not been formed, and the province's chiefs unanimously agreed during a meeting this week that the process has taken "far too long."

The assembly passed a resolution calling on the city to remove the bronze statue immediately, and deal with all commemorations of Cornwallis.

"It's time that Nova Scotia represents all of our histories," Chief Deborah Robinson of Acadia First Nation said in the statement. "The story has been one-sided for far too long."

She added: "The Mi'kmaq are the first people of these lands, we have stories that we are proud of and that should be recognized and told. Continuing to celebrate and commemorate only one part of history, and people like Cornwallis, is what we should all want to move away from."

Chris Donovan / Reuters
A municipal employee covers the statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who issued a bounty on the heads of indigenous people, during a protest in Halifax on July 15, 2017.

The assembly said it has written to the municipality to call for the statue's immediate removal.

The decision by Halifax council to launch a committee to examine Cornwallis's commemoration in the city was considered by some to be a historic step toward reconciliation with the Indigenous community.

A similar motion, which would have had experts weigh in on the issue, was narrowly defeated in 2016.

However, controversy over Cornwallis grew after Rebecca Thomas, Halifax's poet laureate, went before council last spring with a poem chiding councillors for shutting down debate over how the city commemorates its controversial founder.

Then last summer, the debate reached a boiling point when protesters converged on the statue and demanded it be pulled down.

Chris Donovan / Reuters
Protesters gather around a covered statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who had issued a bounty on the heads of Indigenous people, during a protest in Halifax on July 15, 2017.

The city briefly covered up the bronze figure, and council later agreed to launch the special committee.

It was expected to provide council with advice on what to do with a statue of Cornwallis in downtown Halifax, as well as make recommendations for honouring Indigenous history.

The committee was to be made up of eight community members, four of which would be based on nominations put forward by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.

It's unclear how the city will move forward on the issue, but given the divisive nature of the debate, the city's response could be contentious regardless of what it decides.

For some, Cornwallis is a brave leader who founded Halifax with his entourage of soldiers and settlers trying to survive in a new world.

But others see him as the commander of a bloody and barbaric extermination campaign against Mi'kmaq inhabitants, exemplified in the 1749 scalping proclamation.

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