Daniel Paul on protest to topple Cornwallis statue: “If it goes, it goes”

Mi'kmaq author and historian says protesters are following up on path he started decades ago.

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Red paint thrown on the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue in 2016. - VIA INSTAGRAM
  • VIA INSTAGRAM
  • Red paint thrown on the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue in 2016.

The man who for decades has led the charge to bring Edward Cornwallis down from his pedestal isn't opposed to a little civil disobedience.

Organizers of a divisive protest happening this Saturday are hoping to topple the bronze, south-end statue, which they say “for too long has been representing genocide in M'ikma'ki.”

Mayor Mike Savage and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs have spoken out against the group’s targeted goal, urging for calm dialogue instead of violent action. But those calls have seemingly only strengthened the resolve of the event’s grassroots organizers.

Daniel Paul, on the other hand, is a little more ambivalent about the matter.

“Well, if it goes, it goes,” he says.

The Mi’kmaq historian and auth
More of Daniel Paul's writing can be found on his website. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • VIA YOUTUBE
  • More of Daniel Paul's writing can be found on his website.
or has fought for decades to change how Halifax celebrates its controversial founder. His 1993 book, “We Were Not The Savages,” resurfaced Cornwallis’ actions against the area’s Indigenous people—including a bounty paid for Mi’kmaw scalps.

Paul says this weekend’s protest is an example of how younger generations are following up on what he’s started in order to demand change.

“The younger people are making their move, and what they do, it’s up to them in that regard,” he says. “I’ve been at it for what, 31 years? Perhaps they’re getting a little impatient.”

Halifax Regional Council recently voted to assemble an expert panel to review how HRM commemorates its controversial founder, but those non-binding recommendations won’t be back to city hall anytime in the immediate future.

Nevertheless, several civic and Indigenous leaders have asked protesters attending Saturday’s event to be patient, and embrace a more gradual road towards reconciliation.

The lack of urgency, says Paul, is a reflection of skin colour.


“If Cornwallis had placed a bounty on a white race of people, I’m quite sure the statue would be long gone and he’d be condemned quite diligently.”

Though he didn’t issue a bounty on their scalps, Cornwallis did command the British forces that raped, murdered and burned their way through the Scottish Highlands during the sinisterly named Pacification. His subsequent settlement along what is now Halifax Harbour was done in violation of past treaties with the Mi’kmaq, and was the cause of repeated violent clashes between both sides. 



Paul says those attacks are falsely regarded by many today as war. Cornwallis himself rejected the term, Paul writes in his book, because war implied the enemy was free, independent, equal.

While that dominant version of history has been questioned and reinterpreted in recent years, incidents like the Proud Boys’ smug disruption on Canada Day show colonial attitudes are still strong among many HRM residents.

On Thursday, Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee spoke on the Rick Howe radio show, using unambiguously racialialized language to describe the protesters as “hotheads on the warpath.” The councillor later apologized, kinda, to anyone offended by his remarks.

Hendsbee's comments came just weeks after the councillor interrupted an Aboriginal Day acknowledgement being made by the mayor in front of Indigenous guests to City Hall—blurting out his own commemoration of Cornwallis’ founding of Halifax.

Despite those embarrassments, Paul says progress is being made. A great number of attitudes have changed over the years that he’s been fighting for this cause.



“If you had proposed taking down Cornwallis’ statue 25 years ago, probably 100 percent of caucasian Nova Scotians would have opposed it,” he says. “Last survey they did, I think it was only 56 percent opposed it [58, actually]. So, that’s taken quite a drop.”

The opposition could rise sharply, however, based on what ends up happening Saturday. As noted by poet laureate Rebecca Thomas on Twitter, non-white groups protesting for equality do so at great sacrifice to the general public's empathy.



“We are giving up potential allies that will now see us as troublemakers,” she writes.

“We will be seen as confirmation to our stereotypes...Our worth will be determined by the damage done by white ‘allies’...The choice to assert our right to civil disobedience will be reduced to thugs and lazy Indians.”


Paul says he’s taking a “wait and see” approach to this weekend's event. It may provoke backlash, true. But he doesn’t feel that alone is enough of a reason not to get involved.

“God knows we’ve suffered enough racism and discrimination in this province to do us several lifetimes,” he says. “I don’t know if it could get any worse than it’s ever been.”

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