A Mi’kmaw elder and scholar has helped unveil a new park name Monday after more than 30 years of fighting for change.
The former Cornwallis Park — named for Edward Cornwallis, who was known to have put a bounty on Mi’kmaw scalps in 1749 while serving as the governor of Nova Scotia — is now known as Peace and Friendship Park, in reference to the Peace and Friendship Treaties between the Mi’kmaq and the British Crown.
In the late 1980s, Mi’kmaw Elder Dr. Dan Paul began his quest to have public commemoration of a colonial military leader responsible for violent acts of oppression against Mi’kmaq removed from municipal assets.
After more than three decades of advocacy, he joined other Mi’kmaw community leaders to unveil “an achievement for all communities.”
He said that he was born in 1938, at a time when he couldn’t vote in elections. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Indigenous groups were only given the right to vote in March 1960.
“We were wards of the state. We had no rights whatsoever. We couldn’t even buy a bottle of beer and drink it. So that tells you something about how far we came from in the last two years. But we still have a lot of work to do and hopefully, we’ll get it done,” said Paul.
In a speech, Paul said he always believed that the statue would eventually be brought down by the “verifiable historical knowledge” of citizens.
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“I believe that the direction of the statue and the naming of the park was done by individuals who had a lack of knowledge about the barbarity that Cornwallis committed during his career and truly believed that they were honouring a hero,” said Paul.
Mayor Mike Savage said that growing up, the history that he was taught at school did not accurately reflect the history of the Mi’kmaw people.
He said it took books like that written by Paul to help him recognize that history is very much dependent upon who wrote it.
“I know that for some people there was a concern that we were turning our back on the sort of European heritage, the British heritage. I just don’t think that’s true,” said Savage.
“The streets I grew up on all had English names, so I think it’s time we recognize more and more that Mi’kmaq is our history. It’s a shared history and we can do it together,” he added.
Paul said the renaming of the park is something that folks of all ethnicities can be comfortable with.
“What is better than for us all to live in harmony and accept one another in peace and friendship? Now we have a park for all of us to enjoy … Good things happen when people get to know one another,” Paul said.
However, there remains work to be done. Paul said the next step that the province and its cities need to take is to change the name of the Cornwallis River back to its original Mikmaw name.
He said there are also three towns in Nova Scotia, including Lunenburg, Kentville and New Minas, that have a Cornwallis street, which he hopes will be changed.
Halifax has one, but it is in the process of being renamed.
Council has agreed to amend Administrative Order 29, respecting civic addressing, to allow council to rename streets — such as Cornwallis Street — and “consider other similar renaming requests in the future.”
The city plans to hold public consultations for renaming that street.