January 10 1997 Halifax Herald

Dispersal of Africville’s people was cultural genocide

During the 1940s, with the full cooperation of its provincial counterparts, the federal government introduced into Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq community a draconian management policy called "Centralization." It was envisioned by the policy's creators that its assimilative provisions would cure the province's "Indian problem" forever, by bringing about the extinction of the Mi'kmaq. During this exercise, although its overall evil objective wasn't realized, several Mi'kmaq villages were destroyed or badly battered. Some believe that this was the last incident where cultural genocide was engineered by governments in Nova Scotia. However, the destruction of these villages by the Feds was not the last time overt cultural genocide was committed here.

In order to enter into a meaningful discussion about historical incidents of genocide committed in Nova Scotia, one must keep in mind the province's cultural makeup. Four cultures are based here: Afro, Anglo, Franco, and Mi'kmaq. Since the mid-1700s, the Anglo culture has been the province's dominant force and has, at times, made life very difficult for the other three.

With this in mind, the incident I wish to bring forward and discuss was inflicted upon an Afro community, Africville. To weigh a contention that Halifax committed cultural genocide when it destroyed Africville, its necessary to know how the United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide, and to know the provisions of the Convention appropriate to the situation.
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with
intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(B) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members
of the group;
(C) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of
life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in
whole or in part.

A short bio of the subject Afro community: The community's roots were planted in the late 1790s by freed African slaves, and by other Africans who were marooned by the abolishment of slavery in certain countries. It was christened Africville in 1850. Without trying one's imagination, it can be reasonably assumed that the people who founded the village had in common a desire to preserve, amid a sea of hostile Anglo culture, their African heritage and racial kinship. It appears the white population accepted this perception, for they referred to the settlement as the "African Village." Africville's original settlers, and thereafter their descendants, succeeded in realizing their goal. The community, with its Soul Music and other unique characteristics, became a true part of the Afro mosaic in Nova Scotia.

From its founding, the community's residents, like their brothers and sisters in other African Nova Scotia communities, and likewise members of the Mi'kmaq community, were victimized by harsh racial oppression. They were segregated at will. Up until recent times, many of the province's public and private facilities, including schools, were closed to them and in many instances, people were segregated unto death, by being buried in sections of white cemeteries reserved for "coloureds."

By the early 1960s, after approximately 170 years had passed since Africville had become part of the City of Halifax, the city had not extended water and sewer and many other municipal services to it. Actually, Halifax intensified the trying living conditions that the neglected people of Africville suffered, by locating the city's dump and other undesirable entities upon their doorstep. One can only assume that the city's historic mistreatment of Africville's residents was motivated because of their colour and cultural differences.

Therefore, when in the early sixties, the Anglo-dominated city council developed a paternalistic attitude towards the residents of Africville and decided unilaterally that they should be relocated for their own good - the same scenario was used by the Feds to justify relocating the Mi'kmaq - they crossed the boundary of acceptable conduct by a controlling culture towards a weaker one. This is especially so when members of the affected cultural group are not part of the decision-making process.

When reviewing the city council's decision to "relocate," without their informed consent, Africville's residents and bulldoze their village into oblivion, this truism stands out: although probably well-meaning, it was carried out in a manner which assured that the unique characteristics of the African Nova Scotian culture which developed there was destroyed. And, most damning, many of its people were severely traumatized and scarred by their dispersal. This action, in my estimation, fits the criteria which was laid out by the UN Genocide Convention, for a group to claim they were victimized by genocide.

Today, where Africville once stood, Halifax has located an under-used public park called Seaview. This situation is unacceptable. The time has come for Halifax Regional Council to accept full responsibility for the unthinking actions of its predecessors and institute a process to restore this property to its rightful owners. Then it should provide unfettered assistance to help rebuild the community. Until such time as this occurs, justice will not have been accorded these badly used people! (Thanks are extended to Irvine Carvery and professor Don Clairmont for providing background information.)


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