The statue of Halifax's controversial founder was temporarily shrouded instead of toppled Saturday during a Mi'kmaq ceremony and protest that included the mayor, Mi'kmaq leaders and organizers of the Facebook group "Removing Cornwallis."
A handful of protesters tried to disrupt the event, including one carrying a flag of Britain, but they did little to draw attention away from the spiritual ceremony where the mayor received three calls to action.
City crews draped a black canvas tarp over the bronze statue of Edward Cornwallis as cheers erupted in the crowd of 200 gathered in the park named after him. The former governor of Nova Scotia and British military officer founded Halifax in 1749 and, soon after, issued a bounty on Mi'kmaq scalps in response to an attack on colonists. The Mi'kmaq have long called for removal of tributes to Cornwallis, saying his actions were a form of genocide.
Protesters and Mi'kmaq leaders worked with the city to cover the monument. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said he was foremost concerned with safety, which is why he offered up city crews and the municipal boom truck to cloak the monument. Municipal crews intend to take down the tarp later in the day, he said.
Annette Googoo, a resident of Millbrook First Nation outside Halifax, said she felt victorious in the moment, but more needs to be done and the statue has to come down. "To come here and see that – it's not reconciliation at all, not one bit. Even just this: it's a minute. In the lifetime of a Mi'kmaq person, it's a minute," she said.
Event organizer Suzanne Patles demanded three calls to action from Mr. Savage: the immediate removal of the monument to Edward Cornwallis; for him to host a peace assembly to facilitate reconciliation; and to create an expert panel that includes Indigenous people to look at the naming of all city public parks and places, ensure First Nation history and treaties are reflected in public spaces, and identify other acts of reconciliation for the city to carry out.
They called on the city to provide updates on these demands by Oct. 1, which marks the beginning of Mi'kmaq History Month in Nova Scotia.
The mayor received the declaration and said he would bring the demands to Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday.
"I will not suggest to you that these will all be met or that I can support all of them, but I can tell you that I will bring them forward and that we will have conversations as a council. That's already begun on some of these important measures," Mr. Savage told the crowd.
"It's not an easy process but it's a process that is overdue, and I'm committed to working with my council colleagues."
As city crews lowered the tarp on the statue, one man in his 40s arrived carrying a British flag in protest of the event. He said he was not affiliated with the Proud Boys, a self-declared group of "Western chauvinists" and off-duty Canadian Armed Forces members, who disrupted a Mi'kmaq ceremony here on Canada Day.
"The only reason I'm here is because I don't think it's right for them to tear a statue down. I just want to show that there's another point of view here and there's a lot of people that share my point of view. I'm here to support the founder of the city," said the man, who refused to give his name and quipped that he was "Edward Cornwallis Jr."
Tensions rose slightly as people in the crowd encircled him and held a Mi'kmaq flag in front of his Union Jack.
That's when Duncan Gould, from Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton, stepped in and told the man he was being disrespectful and asked him to leave. The man did, lowering his flag and stating it was time for him to go.
Another disruptor, wearing a pageboy cap, got into a heated argument with bystanders. Mr. Gould stepped in again, this time as police looked on.
"In the name of humanity, let us have our ceremony," Mr. Gould told the man. "I'm asking you, please respect our ceremony. I'm offering my hand. Don't do this."
When the man refused, police escorted him away.
In an interview, Mr. Gould explained why he attended and why he thinks the statue should come down: "Would we honour Stalin or Pol Pot or Hitler? If you want to honour hatred and racism, fine, but it doesn't belong in a public venue. It belongs in a museum or a cellar – the dustbins of history, as they call it."