July 11, 2002 Halifax Herald

Idolizing Cornwallis insulting

JULY 17, 2002, will mark the 250th anniversary of the day when Edward Cornwallis, retiring colonial governor of Nova Scotia, under pressure from the Massachusetts Bay government, revoked by proclamation his two proclamations for Mi'kmaq scalps. Excerpts:

"Whereas, by the advice and consent of His Majesty's Council of this Province, two Proclamations were, by me, sometime since applied, authority and commanding all Officers, Civic and Military, and all of His Majesty's Subjects within this Province, to annoy, distress, take and destroy the Savages called the Mickmack Indians, and promising a reward for each one of them taken or killed;

"And whereas, for sometime past, no hostilities have been committed by the said Indians against any of His Majesty's Subjects, and some overtures tending to peace and amity have been made by them, I have thought fit, with the advice and consent of His Majesty's Council, to revoke the said Proclamations . . . and further do hereby strictly forbid all persons to molest, injure or commit any kind of hostility against any of the aforesaid Indians . . . unless the same should be unavoidably necessary in defence against any hostile act of any such Indians towards any of His Majesty's Subjects;

"And whereas, since the said cessation of hostilities, and publicly known design of a conference to be had between this Government, in conjunction with the Government of Massachusetts Bay, with the Tribes of Indians residing within, or bordering upon the said Governments . . ."

University of Cincinnati historian Geoffrey Plank says, concerning Cornwallis's intentions to subjugate, or exterminate, the Mi'kmaq: "If the Micmac chose to resist his expropriation of land, the governor intended to conduct a war unlike any that had been fought in Nova Scotia before. He outlined his thinking in an unambiguous letter to the Board of Trade. If there was to be a war, he did not want the war to end with a peace agreement. 'It would be better to root the Micmac out of the peninsula decisively and forever.' The war began soon after the governor made this statement."

Just how vile Cornwallis's intentions were are spelled out in the two proclamations he issued. The first, on Oct. 1, 1749, included this sentence: "That a reward of ten Guineas be granted for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed." On June 21, 1750, he raised the monetary incentive to 50 pounds sterling per head.

It seems unbelievable that the late governor is still honoured as a hero in this province.

Mi'kmaqs were, as were all indigenous peoples of the Americas, dehumanized by whites during European colonial times to savage animal status through demonizing propaganda. The outrageous lies were, and still are, so instilled in their conscience that a great many whites, probably the majority, still believe them.

Then there is the old problem, white supremacist thinking. I've been involved in debates with well-educated whites who don't see anything wrong with Cornwallis and council issuing two proclamations to attempt to exterminate the Mi'kmaq. The following are a few of the most obnoxious responses they gave in defence of the proclamations: "The English were on a 'civilizing' mission." "They were trying to improve the lives of the natives." "It was war."

From my perspective, civilized people don't attempt to win a war by trying to exterminate their opponents, especially when their opponents are the defendants. To attempt to justify the use of murderous methods to subdue an opponent who was only trying to protect life and property is ludicrous. Was the Mi'kmaq Nation expected to meekly accept a foreign takeover and the destruction of its civilization without a fight?

Nova Scotia society still has a white supremacist bent. This is proven by the fact that it has Cornwallis, a man who admitted in writing to instigating a genocide attempt against a non-white race, as a hero.

In his honour, in Halifax, across from the railway station, it maintains a Cornwallis Park, which includes a well-cared-for huge statue of him. The Red Room of Province House houses a table, or a replica thereof, used by him to sign his scalp proclamations. Even buildings, including a junior high school of all places, are named after him. Then there are towns, streets, etc., named after him.

To be fair, there are plenty of white Nova Scotians - I'd like to believe the majority - who think continuing to honour Cornwallis is an insult to civility. They just aren't as vocal as his defenders.

I ask this question of my own people: Have we been so beaten by discrimination and persecution that we will continue to permit our human dignity to be insulted by the idolizing of Cornwallis in our presence forever? No other race, in particular Africans or Jews, would permit a persecutor of their people to be publicly idolized.

Daniel N. Paul


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