Living here is not all it’s cracked up to be. And I am not being melodramatic. It just gets really tiring dealing with the backward and often 1950s mindsets all around me. And it is really hard to have to fight so much, for just a basic human right among other things. Things like compassion, respect, truth.
The province of Nova Scotia is often seen as quaint, friendly, a little laid back. People think of touristy pictures and fun places. But in truth and while often out of sight, sometimes right out in the open, are some incredibly troubling issues, that are inflicted on us, or on behalf of us, even when we are not in favour. Some of us still believe in what government does, decides and demolishes. Others question it, but stay out of the way, preferring to let others concern themselves. And a few try very, very hard to get it across to someone, anyone, in authority, that times are changing and this province needs to catch up.
This weekend, what was supposed to be a compromise, in the ongoing contentious issue over Cornwallis, we saw a glimmer of hope. Hope that our elected officials were finally listening. And that glimmer was temporary. It was in response to the First Nations people of this area demanding, for the umpteenth time, that a statue of Cornwallis be taken out of a public park, due to his historic bounty placed on indigenous ancestors, his violation of the treaties of 1726 and 1749, and the colonial impacts on our First Nations for generations since up to current day. His statue is the result of an effort to boost pride in Halifax between two world wars, and to promote tourism in the city.
In my opinion, it was an ill-fated attempt, like many others, to create ideological importance in a not so important person in our history. And all for the purpose of stimulating the economy. Someone, who was feeling a little loyal to the King in times of depression and world wide turmoil, thought he was the guy we needed to acknowledge. Why not Lord Halifax, who designed the early plans for the city, and who the city is named after? How about Stephen Binney, the very first Mayor? Why not Patrick Vincent Coleman, a hero from the Halifax Explosion? Why not Charles Inglis, the founder of The University of Kings College, the oldest in the province. A Teacher? Doctor? Engineer? Someone who contributed a greater good to this province, the city of Halifax and the people here, or at the very least, someone who was a permanent resident here. And truth be told, the city certainly didn’t think he was the guy. They didn’t want to pay for the statue. In a land populated by the persecuted, those who fled Europe for a new world and brighter future, those who were forced out of their traditional lands, those who were terrorized by this very man in the Scottish Highlands, we decided to honour the persecutor.
But the real issue I had with this past weekend, goes with another frustration altogether. The First Nations people have been trying for a long time to have this statue removed. And they demanded action from the city on this, or they were finally going to take it down. So at the 11th hour, the city agreed to do something. They offered to drape the statue, to cover him up, and to get to work on solving this continued controversy. The city provided a boom truck, a black tarp and the staff to put the tarp in place. The Mayor and a few of his councillors attended the event, and after the heart felt prayers and speeches made by the indigenous community, the Mayor was presented with a list of demands to be brought to council. He shook hands and smiled for the camera, and then he spoke to the crowd. In his speech, it was made clear he was not committing to anything, other than presenting these demands to council.
And now I will explain my frustration.
This issue has been presented to council so many times, and gotten nowhere. Council, and our provincial government, make a big deal about looking into things all the time. And then they do nothing. We see pictures of elected officials, in a moment of agreement to do the right thing, to look for the right answer, sign a document for symbolic purposes, and then the whole thing goes with the wind. There is a pattern of this, in this province and city, for as long as I have been paying attention.
By now, council has discussed, debated and voted so many times against a solution, that it is surprising to people that this weekend was considered a new phase in this continuing saga. It seems to me and others that it is just ongoing. But some feel like it is a new issue every time it makes its way to the surface. Council back in 1937 didn’t want a statue of Cornwallis and now Council can’t imagine life without him. They promised months ago to form an expert committee and yet no one has been appointed or hired on this committee. Who are these people? And who do they think they are kidding?
Some guy goes hiking in the forests along the shores of a port he was directed to by people who had already been here, with a team who where brought along for their capabilities in the construction and organization of towns. In all his fame, the way things played out, for me doesn’t warrant any honour. He came here as he was ordered to do by his employers, he made life hell for the people who were here before him, and then he moved on as soon as was possible. That was his career path, repeated many times over, though quite unsuccessfully in some places. So what did he do that was so worthy of a permanent honour?
On Saturday, I had a wee bit of deja vu, watching the whole thing go down. I was emotional, and so pleased to see some progress. But then my instincts were tweaked. There is a big last minute attempt to appease the people, it is tainted by the firm no-commitment to consider two perspectives and find the middle ground. Everyone feels pretty good, except maybe those who wanted to see the big tumble of the bronze statue, or a riot or something huge. And then…. here’s the biggest offense… the city waited until they thought everyone had gone, and they took the tarp down. During the speeches the First Nations members were thankful this mayor was willing to try to see things their way a little, to make a gesture of goodwill on both sides, and even stated the statue was to remain covered for one week, while the next step is worked on. But that was not the case after all. As the crowds thinned out, and the city thought the protesters were gone, they betrayed this gesture, and were in essence, behaving just as Cornwallis had years ago, when he violated the treaty he signed.
This behaviour is repeated over and over again, this making of promises, and then utter deception. Say one thing to make them tow the line, then do as you please when they go away with false hope. Here, sign this agreement for peace, or here let us make it look like we are looking for a way toward the middle, and then as soon as you walk away… forget we ever said anything. Hey vote for me, and then I will do the opposite of everything I promised. I will tell you one thing, but my fingers are crossed behind my back. You get the impression they are actually laughing behind our backs.
I hope, sincerely hope, those who have raised their voices don’t become disheartened. I hope they do not allow the city to turn a blind eye or slough them off again. I hope they continue to put pressure on the city to figure out what to do about Cornwallis. I hope they know, more of us are supportive of change, and believe in the principles of truth and reconciliation.
I hope the city does not once again, put its people and our First Nations on the shelf to wait out the heat and ignore their obligations. I wish they would step up to the plate and be leaders. The continued deference of important and less pleasant tasks, is wearing thin on all of us. I personally, am tired of going around in circles.