KAMLOOPS — Here we go again with another controversy over statues.
On Canada Day, five off-duty members of the armed forces walked up to a gathering of activists and Indigenous protesters at a statue of Edward Cornwallis in Halifax and spent roughly eight and a half minutes debating colonialization with several of those in attendance.
Carrying a Red Ensign, the interlopers exchanged some mildly heated rhetoric with the Mi’kmaq protesters, who were displaying an upside-down Maple Leaf. The men identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys, an ultra-right organization.
The incident has brought a hasty public apology from Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, promises by the armed forces to investigate, and, today, news that the men have been suspended.
But there are more important issues at stake than whether these men violated the “values” of the army or navy — namely, First Nations grievances and the growing pre-occupation with erasing the names and visages of some historic figures from public view.
Cornwallis is one. He was the governor of Nova Scotia in the mid-1700s and the founder of Halifax. He offered to pay bounty hunters for Mi’kmaq scalps.
Clearly, taking scalps is not an acceptable way to wage war on an enemy, but here’s the context. The race war between the British and the Wabanaki Confederacy, including the Mi’kmaq, was an all-out fight to the death. Depredations were being committed on both sides. The French were paying Mi’kmaq for British scalps.
The bounties didn’t work so Cornwallis soon repealed his proclamation and negotiated a treaty with Mi’kmaq leaders.
The point is this: a wrong is a wrong but these things aren’t always as clearcut as they seem. An unbiased, rounded analysis of the facts of each situation is essential. The proper way to do it is through a respectful dialogue among historians, researchers, advocates and the public, not through confrontation.
When dumbasses like the Halifax Proud Boys get into the act, the chances of having such a debate and resolution go right out the window.
I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.