June 21, 1999 Halifax Daily News Supplement

Hero or horror? Edward Cornwallis's place in history is no simple matter

The Mi'kmaq's fight for survival with the British invader was of long duration, from 1713 to 1761. It was a David vs Goliath struggle, except in this case David was overwhelmed.

The invader, Great Britain, was then the most powerful country in the World, its armaments second to none. The Mi'kmaq had only small arms to fight with, supplemented by bows and arrows. In a nutshell, this was the setting: The British were seizing the lands of an independent people and striving to see them exterminated and the victims were fighting back.

In fighting to defeat the Mi'kmaq, the British resorted to issuing bounties for their scalps. They first used this ungodly practice in Nova Scotia in 1744. Before that, they used the practice extensively to practically exterminate the Native People of what is today the eastern region of the United States.

The age and sex of the victims usually determined what prices bounty hunters were paid for the scalps they collected. The details of these horrific efforts to eliminate Native populations were recorded by English colonial officials, including Edward Cornwallis, as if they were commendable deeds.

Cornwallis was named governor of Nova Scotia in early 1749 by the British Lords of Trades and Plantations in London, and set sail for the province to implement their plan to settle more Protestants here. With a large contingent of settlers and military personnel, arrived in Nova Scotia in June and immediately began to build a settlement at Chebucto harbour, which was later rechristened Halifax in honour of Lord Halifax.

At first, the Mi'kmaq greeted the new arrivals with open arms. In a letter home to England, one settler described their reception: "When we first came here, the Indians, in a friendly manner, brought us lobsters and other fish in plenty, being satisfied for them by a bit of bread and some meat.”

If Cornwallis had, at this time, chosen to deal with the Mi'kmaq in a respectful manner, I firmly believe that peace would have prevailed. Instead, in early September of 1749, he sent several English officers to meet with the MI’KMAQ Chiefs to demand that they recognize the King of England as their sovereign and accept that he was the owner of their land. When the Mi'kmaq refused, war broke out again.

On October 1, 1749, Cornwallis called together members of his council to deal with the situation. It was decided that a bounty would be offered for any Mi'kmaq, including women and children, taken or killed. He advised the Lords of Trade that he intended to remove the Mi'kmaq forever from Nova Scotia. The Lords, cautious, wrote back: "by filling the minds of bordering Indians with ideas of our cruelty" Cornwallis might cause the Tribes to unite and carry out a general continental war against the Europeans.

Despite his best efforts, Cornwallis failed to exterminate the Mi'kmaq. But after the burying of the Hatchet ceremony in 1761, the Mi'kmaq were victimized at various times over the following two centuries, by starvation, malnutrition, and other indignities. In the late 1940s, the malnutrition finally ended, and today, the Nation is beginning to rise again.

Only a white supremacist could believe that destroying a sovereign people's independence and reducing them to a starvation existence was not a crime against humanity. The genocide committed in the Americas by the British is no more defensible than such horrors committed elsewhere.

Daniel N. Paul


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