He founded a town and then put a bounty on the Mi’kmaq. Now, more than 250 years later, aboriginal students will no longer have to attend a school bearing his name.
In 1752 Edward Cornwallis, one of the founders of Halifax, Novia Scotia, issued an order that all Mi’kmaq people be scalped and killed in response to Native attacks on European settlements in a “veritable genocide,” according to Postmedia News. And on June 22 the Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to choose a new name, to be chosen by the community at a later date.
The change was proposed by Mi’kmaq school board member Kirk Arsenault, who said, “Edward Cornwallis is deeply offensive to members of our Mi’kmaq communities and to Nova Scotians generally who believe school names should recognize persons whose contributions to society are unblemished by acts repugnant to the values we wish our schools to embody and represent,” according to Postmedia News. He called the board’s vote “an exercise in healing and of education.”
However, not everyone saw it as a plus. Jack Granatstein, a historian with the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, told the Canadian Press that the move devalues history.
“It’s inevitably rewriting history,” he said. “It’s saying, ‘Our values today are the only ones that should apply, therefore we can’t use the name of someone who had different values 300 years ago.’”
But Mi’kmaq elder and author Daniel Paul, who started pushing for name changes throughout town 25 years ago, called the move proactive, The Chronicle Herald reported, since those ‘different values’ were that Cornwallis offered to pay 10 pounds for every Mi’kmaq scalp. His website detailing the English governor’s atrocities is here.
Arsenault told The Chronicle Herald that he received mostly positive feedback from the public before the meeting. Although a few people opposed the name change, no one appeared at the board meeting to oppose the motion, which was unamimously approved. He doesn’t want it to end there.
“I hope it inspires people in positions of power to make change,” Arsenault told the Globe and Mail. “I think there’s a lot of battles ahead to remove statues and changes names. Maybe that’s someone else’s battle. But maybe I can inspire them.”