Cornwallis debate: Coast guard working with Indigenous group to change ship name

The icebreaker is known as Canadian Coast Guard Ship Edward Cornwallis. DFO

The federal government is asking an Indigenous group in Nova Scotia to recommend a new name for a Canadian Coast Guard ship named after a British military officer who offered a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq people.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan issued a statement Tuesday saying Ottawa wants to work with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs to right the wrongs of the past.

READ MORE: Indigenous historian suggests name change for coast guard vessel Cornwallis

Federal officials say the icebreaker, known as Canadian Coast Guard Ship Edward Cornwallis, is undergoing a refit in Nova Scotia and will be renamed later this year before it leaves the Shelburne Shipyard.

Cornwallis is perhaps best known as the man who founded Halifax in 1749, but his mission to establish a garrison included eliminating Indigenous resistance and, at one point, approving a scalping proclamation to “take or destroy the savages.”

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The federal government says Cornwallis sought to drive the Mi’kmaq from their lands through “barbaric measures.”

READ MORE: Ottawa budgets $11 million for sabotaged Canadian Coast Guard vessel to be repaired

Jordan says she will work with Chief Terry Paul, co-chairman of the assembly, to come up with a new name.

“Reconciliation is imperative to our country’s future, and advancing it is the responsibility of every individual and institution,” Jordan said in a statement. “By renaming the Cornwallis, we take another step in righting the wrongs of our country’s past.”

Paul described the move by the coast guard as “reconciliation in action.”

“The Mi’kmaq have called this land home since time immemorial, however, the dark legacy of early settlers continues to serve as a painful reminder of the inequalities that still exist today,” he said in a statement.

Click to play video: 'Cornwallis Street name being revisited' Cornwallis Street name being revisited
Cornwallis Street name being revisited – Jan 22, 2019

Cornwallis’s name has already been removed from a church and a school in Halifax, and a street in Sydney, N.S. In January 2018, a statue of the man was removed from a park in downtown Halifax.

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“Cornwallis’s legacy does not reflect the values Canadians hold today, and his name is a painful reminder to many Indigenous peoples of the racism and inequality their ancestors endured and that many still face today,” the Fisheries and Oceans Department said in a statement.

The ship entered service in 1986 and its home port is the Canadian Coast Guard base in Dartmouth, on the east side of Halifax harbour.

Earlier this year, a $12.1-million contract was awarded to Shelburne Ship Repair to refit the vessel to extend its service. That work is expected to be completed early next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2020.

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