Mi’kmaq lead­ers urge calm ahead of protest over statue

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ATLANTIC - BY AD­INA BRESGE

Or­ga­niz­ers say a week­end protest call­ing for a statue of Hal­i­fax’s con­tro­ver­sial founder to be top­pled will pro­ceed as planned, de­spite ob­jec­tions from some Mi’kmaq lead­ers.

A Face­book event called “Re­mov­ing Corn­wal­lis” in­vites pro­test­ers to re­move a large bronze statue of for­mer gover­nor Ed­ward Corn­wal­lis from atop a stone pedestal on Satur­day.

Or­ga­niz­ers haven’t said how they will do that, but the event has reignited de­bate about how Hal­i­fax com­mem­o­rates its colo­nial his­tory, as well as how the prov­ince’s Mi’kmaq com­mu­nity af­firms its past.

Corn­wal­lis, as gover­nor of Nova Sco­tia, founded Hal­i­fax in 1749 and soon af­ter is­sued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in re­sponse to an at­tack on colonists. The Mi’kmaq have long called for re­moval of tributes to Corn­wal­lis, some call­ing his ac­tions a form of geno­cide.

Mem­bers of the Nova Sco­tia Assem­bly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs agree that the statue should come down. How­ever, they say pro­test­ers should use civic en­gage­ment, rather than force, to ac­com­plish their goal.

“There is a process to en­gage with one an­other, and while this may take time, it does not mean that work is not be­ing done,” Chief Deb­o­rah Robin­son, lead chief of Ur­ban Mi’kmaq for the assem­bly, said in a state­ment. “While we re­spect the right to protest, we also want peo­ple to know that our pri­mary con­cern is for the safety of our peo­ple.”

The assem­bly’s stance was cited by Mayor Mike Sav­age when he spoke out against the ap­par­ent threat to pub­lic prop­erty on Tues­day.

Sav­age said the city will not stand in the way of “le­git­i­mate pub­lic protest,” but he also said of­fi­cials will not “con­done vi­o­lent ac­tion in the place of real di­a­logue.”

Protest or­ga­nizer Suzanne Pa­tles took is­sue with the mayor’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the event, ac­cus­ing Sav­age of sow­ing divi­sion within the Mi’kmaq com­mu­nity.

“We’re not go­ing against our own peo­ple. We’re go­ing by the di­rec­tions of our el­ders,” Pa­tles said in an in­ter­view. “We want these is­sues to be brought for­ward as valid and not to be dis­missed as some­thing vi­o­lent and from the left field.”

Pa­tles said Satur­day’s event will fea­ture a cer­e­mo­nial com­po­nent, but she de­clined to com­ment on plans to top­ple the statue.

She said if the city does not com­mit to re­mov­ing the statue by Aug. 7 - the city’s birth­day and a civic hol­i­day - then the statue “will have a way of com­ing down.”

Pa­tles said there is re­newed ur­gency to do some­thing as Corn­wal­lis has emerged as a sym­bol of prej­u­dice.

On Canada Day, a group of off-duty Cana­dian mil­i­tary men dis­rupted a spir­i­tual event at the statue mark­ing the suf­fer­ing of In­dige­nous Peo­ples.

The men, who are now fac­ing a mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pos­si­ble ex­pul­sion from the Forces, said they were mem­bers of the Proud Boys, a self-de­clared group of “Western Chauvinists” who say they are tired of apol­o­giz­ing for “cre­at­ing the mod­ern world.”

“There’s prob­a­bly a more ur­gent need to deal with this,” said Shawn Cleary, a city coun­cil­lor. “That in par­tic­u­lar pro­vided a sort of a trig­ger or an im­pe­tus to move this now.”

CP PHOTO

A statue of Ed­ward Corn­wal­lis in a Hal­i­fax park is shown in this file im­age. Or­ga­niz­ers say a protest call­ing for a statue of Hal­i­fax’s con­tro­ver­sial founder to be top­pled will pro­ceed as planned, de­spite ob­jec­tions from Mi’kmaq lead­ers.

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