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Cornwallis – What's in a name?

Halifax Regional School Board moves to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High

by Palmira Boutillier

Kirk Arsenault and Daniel Paul after the motion to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High passed.
Kirk Arsenault and Daniel Paul after the motion to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High passed.

On Wednesday, June 22nd, the Halifax Regional School Board made a decisive move towards rectifying history and making the region a more inclusive place for Nova Scotia's aboriginal people. The school board unanimously approved a motion to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High.

Cornwallis is known primarily as the founder of Halifax but as we all know there were people here before Cornwallis founded this fair city. It is for these people that the name is being changed. During the short time Cornwallis was the Governor of Nova Scotia he instigated a bounty for the scalps of Mi'kmaq people.

The school board agreed that the name Cornwallis was no longer appropriate and that the community should propose another name for the school. The motion states, “Whereas Edward Cornwallis, as Governor of Nova Scotia, authorized the killing of Mi’kmaq persons, including women and children, and offered a bounty for such killing, this board finds the naming of a public school after him to be inappropriate and unacceptable.”

Daniel Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder, historian, author, and the recipient of both the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada, was present for the meeting.

Paul has been instrumental in bringing Cornwallis' scalp proclamation to light. He said that when he was growing up he had heard rumours about the proclamation, but it wasn't until 1967, while sitting in the old Piccadilly Tavern in Halifax with his brother and a friend, when he noticed a replica of the proclamation on the wall. “I got very curious from that point on and I began to do the research and come up with the full documentation and interestingly enough all that information is there at the archives for anyone to read,” said Paul.

It has been a long fight for Paul to get this part of Halifax's and Cornwallis' history recognized and into the mainstream. After the motion passed with ease, Paul said “25 years ago when I brought this out and people were warning me I shouldn't, to leave dead dogs lie. As a matter of fact, one historian knew about it, knew all about the scalp proclamation but he simply said 'I don't want to discuss it.' So I said 'you don't want to discuss it then I'll begin to discuss it.' I did a lot of research and here we are today and people are willing to learn, proactive people willing to come on board and change things. I'm very delighted tonight to see this happen. You don't know how I feel, I feel like dancing in the street but I'm too old for that.”

The motion was brought forward by Kirk Arsenault the Mi'kmaq representative on the school board. The motion was seconded by David Cameron who represents the district where Cornwallis Junior High resides.

The chair of the board, Irvine Carvery, told a story about Liverpool, England where many streets were named after the captains of slave trading ships. Now, all of those names have been replaced, the only exception being the famous Penny Lane. “Surely to God we can remove the name of one school in Halifax,” said Carvery.

Carvery was happy that Arsenault was the one to present the motion, even though it was supported by the entire board. “I'm very proud that we do have a Mi'kmaq representative on the board when this motion came forward” said Carvery. “I was going to do it myself but I said no, it's appropriate that it be brought by the people themselves. And that's why we need diverse representation on the school board, so that the points of view of all of our citizens are heard here and we can have considerations of the things that are important to them.”

Members of the public also came out to speak in support of the motion. Ben Sichel, a history teacher at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth gave a quick lesson to the board.

One of the courses Sichel teaches is Mi’kmaq Studies 10 and he said “The issue of re-naming monuments to Cornwallis comes up every year in my class, and I’ve heard many of the common arguments against it. People say you can’t change history. This is true – but you can choose who you honour in history. You can decide whose names will be on our public buildings, streets, towns and military bases, whose faces will be immortalized on statues, and generally how people perceive a historical figure.”

Some of these arguments have been cropping up in the past few days on twitter and in the Chronicle Herald, including this unsigned editorial from Saturday against the name change.

Sichel said that “through teaching about Aboriginal issues to mostly non-Aboriginal students, it’s become apparent to me that we still have much work to do in terms of fostering respectful, productive relationships between native and non-native people in this region, and honouring the place of Mi’kmaq people in our shared history.”

Indeed, Canada's federal government only ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year, three years after the declaration was made and the majority of the world signed on to it.

Just recently, on June 18th 2011, Aboriginal people were granted full coverage under Canadian human rights laws after being excluded since their creation in 1977. 

And it was only 2008, when the federal government apologized for the treatment of First Nations children taken away from their families and abused at residential schools.

The old adage 'actions speak louder than words' holds true and changing a name is real and tangible change. Paul said “I think what the school board did today was courageous. It's the first step and I hope it's not the last step - that we eventually see the park renamed and the statue taken down and Cornwallis street given a new name.”

The feeling at the school board meeting was one of pride at collective accomplishment. There was clapping, hugging and smiling. It appears that making steps towards inclusiveness feels good.


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Topics: Indigenous
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Comments

The old adage 'actions speak

The old adage 'actions speak louder than words' holds true and changing a name is real and tangible change. Paul said “I think what the school board did today was courageous. It's the first step and I hope it's not the last step - that we eventually see the park renamed and the statue taken down and Cornwallis street given a new name.”

 

Hmm...

The old adage 'actio

The old adage 'actions speak louder than words' holds true and changing a name is real and tangible change. Paul said “I think what the school board did today was courageous. It's the first step and I hope it's not the last step - that we eventually see the park renamed and the statue taken down and Cornwallis street given a new name.”
 
Hmm...

_________
capsule nespresso Expert

good piece

thanks for the article.  good work.  i read daniel paul's book "we were not the savages" a few years back -- the scalp proclamation evidence was probably its strongest component.  nice to see his tireless efforts pay off in terms of concrete action, however modest.  hopefully the re-naming will give rise to further discussions about nova scotia history, and the meaning of settler-colonialism in canada.

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