Letter from N.S.

Halifax junior high strips Cornwallis of his rank

HALIFAX — The Globe and Mail

A statue of Lord Edward Cornwallis is seen in a Halifax park on June 23, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax and his name adorns Nova Scotia's streets, parks and schools.

But times are changing and some natives are pushing back at the honouring of a man they view as a butcher. And raising the pressure on elected officials province-wide to take seriously this issue, the school board in Halifax unanimously agreed this week to drop the name from a junior high.

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"I hope it inspires people in positions of power to make change," Kirk Arsenault, the Mi'kmaq member of the school board who tabled the motion, said in a phone interview. "I think there's a lot of battles ahead to remove statues and changes names. Maybe that's someone else's battle. But maybe I can inspire them."

The renaming of Cornwallis Junior High, which will get a new moniker after community consultation, comes amid signs of racial progress in Nova Scotia. The city of Halifax recently apologized for its treatment of blacks in Africville and the province granted a free pardon to Viola Desmond, a woman sometimes called Canada's Rosa Parks.

Native leaders called this week's decision on the school the overdue correction of a historical wrong. The issue is particularly poignant for the Mi'kmaq, the subject of a Cornwallis proclamation offering a bounty for their scalps.

Daniel Paul, a Mi'kmaq author and historian, said it was irrelevant that Mi'kmaq were, at the same time, being paid by the French for British scalps. He pointed out that those natives were mercenaries acting beyond the authority of their leaders, whereas the British scalp bounty was official policy.

As for the argument that the province's history can't be re-written, he said politicians have to remember that symbolism matters.

"Would it be nice to have that school re-named Hitler Junior High?" he asked. "It makes a big difference. If there is ever going to be a racially equal society you have to clean up all the mess from the past."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly elevated Edward Cornwallis to the Peerage. This version has been corrected.

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