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Goodbye, Cornwallis

On Saturday, July 15 Mi’kmaq elders and organizers held a ceremony to remove the spirit of Edward Cornwallis from a park in downtown Halifax.

The Cornwallis statue was covered in black cloth during the ceremony to remove his spirit and his legacy of violence from Halifax. Photo by Sadie Beaton.

Cornwallis arrived in K’jpuktuk in 1749 and renamed the place Halifax. The British were fighting with the French for control over what is now Nova Scotia, and some Mi’kmaq warriors aligned with the French to fend off English forces. As part of this war, Cornwallis ordered a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people. He is seen today as a symbol of genocide and colonial violence, and Mi’kmaq organizers have been working to have the statue of Cornwallis removed from this park for decades.  

Elizabeth Marshall, one of the organizers of the July 15 ceremony, told APTN she felt like the ceremony was “a rebirth of our people who felt oppressed and who felt they were voiceless. Today they had a voice.”

Before the ceremony, Marshall explained to the crowd what would take place. Watch the whole speech on Miles Howe’s livestream of the event (skip to 1 hour to see this speech).

“When the elders instructed us they said ‘take Cornwallis down’. I interpreted that to mean that we would take him down like they took down Saddam. I thought we were supposed to take him down like they took down Stalin. But that’s my educated mind, and the elders called me back and said we taught you better than that. We don’t want him taken down in violence. We want to take him down in our way. We want to take him down in love, and we want to counteract the violence with love, because that’s who we are. Do you think this continent and this place K’jipuktuk was made with violence? No, it was made with love. In our tradition, he’s coming down.

“Once we cover him, we’re going to bury him. He’s been kept alive with hate, and that’s not fair to his spirit, eh? We’re going to send him where the creator wants him to go, and we’re going to end his spirit here today. We’re going to take him down with love, we’re going to take him down with ceremony, we’re going to take him down with song. The violence and contempt that he represents will also be forgotten. We’re showing the world who we are. We’re the peacemakers. We showed them how to live in peace. We showed them the way – they couldn’t figure it out on the other side, eh? They came here and we showed them how to live in peace, equality, brotherhood, and love.”

Elder Dr. Isabelle Knockwood then led the ceremony, calling to the Creator to take Cornwallis’s spirit. “We’re all losers in war, and we’re all winners in peace,” she said.

Halifax Regional Municipality lent the use of a cherry picker to cover the statue safely during the ceremony. Photo: Metro News Halifax.

Halifax Regional Municipality has been pressured to remove this statue for decades but has done nothing, and in the last few years has committed to putting together a committee to explore the options for re-designing the park and the potential of moving the statue. Committee members have not yet been chosen, and organizers largely felt like this approach did not recognize the urgency of removing the representation and celebration of colonial violence that is the Cornwallis statue. Organizers presented a list of demands to Mayor Mike Savage, who helped the organizers by providing a large black tarp and a cherrypicker truck to put the tarp up safely. The demands read:

Organizers gave this list of demands given to Mayor Savage.

Mayor Savage made a brief statement after being presented with the demands. He said during his speech that Halifax sits on the traditional land of the Mi’kmaq, and people yelled from the crowd, “We want to hear you say it!” It is uncommon for political officials to use the word ‘unceded’ when talking about Indigenous lands, and after being called on by the crowd Mayor Savage appropriately called this the unceded, traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq.

Halifax Council will be meeting on Tuesday July 18th to discuss the demands of the organizers. All are welcome to attend this council meeting and show support for these demands. The meeting agenda will be updated soon to include this item, and can be found here.

Read more from APTN and CBC.