Febuary 12, 1999 Halifax Herald

Fitzgerald's apology step in right direction

The solid wall of white officialdom's denial by silence of the atrocities committed against the Mi'kmaq by Edward Cornwallis now has a welcome crack in it. Walter Fitzgerald, mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality, included this sentence in a February 1, 1999 memo he wrote to Don Julien, Executive Director of the Confederacy of Mainland Micmacs: "While we cannot change history, I sincerely apologize for any atrocities which were committed against the Mi'kmaq after the founding of Halifax in 1749."

Thanks, Walter, for having the courage to do something which the governments of the province of Nova Scotia and of England haven't yet found the fortitude to do. It takes pluck to step out from among one's fraternal peers and acknowledge that the founding of Halifax by Cornwallis was not a happy and positive event for everyone. Unarguably, it spelt hellish tragedy for two Peoples. The truth of this statement is well documented in the historical record of Nova Scotia.

The two human tragedies: First, an attempt to exterminate the Mi'kmaq, which failed; and then reducing them to utter poverty and forcing them to abide in the most degrading and dire of straits for over two centuries. Second, starting in 1755, the rounding up of the Acadians, who numbered in the thousands, and expelling them in any type of ship available; and doing it under some of the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable. These are sins which will remain blights on this country and province.

With good will and understanding these atrocities can be forgiven, but they cannot, nor should they ever be, forgotten. From these experiences, if we teach our children the horrors that unreasonable hatred begets, future tragedies can be prevented. Therefore, all the things that Nova Scotia has to be proud of, along with all the things it has to be ashamed of - i.e., genocide, expulsion, slavery, segregation, race riots, racial exclusion, etc. should be compiled into a provincial history textbook and taught in school. Historical ignorance is a sore that needs to be cured.

It was such historical ignorance on the part of the white community which begot the negative reaction among Mi'kmaqs to the celebration of Halifax's birthday. Imagine! Without consulting our Chiefs or our Grand Council, the Municipality's millennium committee made plans to re-enact the arrival in Halifax Harbour of Cornwallis by having Mi'kmaqs in canoes greet his stand-in and afterwards, on land, fete the same with a Sweet Grass Ceremony.

I can't think of anything that could have been more insensitive or insulting. To ask a people to participate in a party to celebrate the arrival of the man who tried to exterminate their ancestors is unthinkable. This leads one to ask: Will historical ignorance one day lead to a group inviting the descendants of the victims of a horror such as the Holocaust to celebrate an achievement of its perpetrator, Hitler? Grieving for the souls of our ancestors is what the events of 1749 stirs, not celebration.

Acceptance, apology and atonement must come from the majority in this instance. I realize that when accepting the details of an atrocity committed by one's ancestors, one might ask how one can atone for the sins of one’s forefathers? There is no simple answer to such a question. The Germans have been trying to do so for 54 years by giving money to Israel as compensation for what the Nazis did to the Jews, and they haven't succeeded. Then again, maybe they have to a certain degree. The money provided has helped the country become strong and viable, thus well able to defend itself and to provide a safe and somewhat secure homeland for the World's Jews.

It was proactive thinking by the United Nations that created Israel out of Palestine. The same thinking can be applied in Canada. Would it be such a stretch to ask each province to carve out large enough homelands from the land base of this vast country for these Nations? Such is needed to preserve their ancient cultures. Its not impossible to do what's right; however, being a pragmatist, I do know that racism will not at this time permit it.

This leads me to ask: Will Canada one day be noted in the annals of World History as a Nation that caused the death of 34 distinct races of people by denying them homelands? At the rate these civilizations are deteriorating, and in the absence of proactive thinking, it likely will be.

In the case of Cornwallis there is a small thing that the municipality can do to atone for the thoughtlessness of its millennium committee. In view of the fact that it spent $13,000. to clean the dung and other nasty things off Cornwallis's statue, located in Cornwallis Park, it would be fair and just for HRM to spend funds for a large plaque to place in front of his monument, which states the following:

"Be it known that Edward Cornwallis, Governor of Nova Scotia, did on October 2, 1749, issue a proclamation that offered a bounty of ten pounds for the scalps of Mi'kmaq men, women and children. His stated intent was to eradicate forever the Mi'kmaq from this province. On June 21, 1750, apparently because his inhuman mission wasn't being accomplished fast enough, he issued another proclamation which increased the bounty to 50 pounds sterling."

No, my friends, the Mi'kmaq will not help you celebrate Cornwallis!

Daniel N. Paul

Halifax Herald column - Fitzgerald's Forked Tounge


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