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CAPITAL BEAT: History making the news


Perhaps it is fitting in some way since this is the country's 150th birthday, but history has been in the headlines a lot lately.

A group in Halifax wants to tear down the statue of Lord Edward Cornwallis, who was the founder of the Nova Scotia capital. In addition to putting what would become the region's largest city on the map, he also issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in retaliation for an attack on the new settlement. The statue has been covered in a black tarp while a committee established by Halifax Mayor Mike Savage decides its fate.

Closer to home, there has also been a call by the Mi’kmaq community and others to change the name of Fort Amherst National Historic Site. The site is named afte Jeffrey Amherst, a former commander of the British forces in North America. He is also the author of what is arguably the first case of germ warfare in history, when blankets laced with smallpox were distributed to the  aboriginal population who were attempting to seize what is now Pittsburgh in 1763.

John Joe Sark, a Keptin with the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, who has been lobbying Parks Canada to remove Amherst's name from the site, gave back his Order of P.E.I. in protest after what he called the "silence" of the provincial government on the issue."

Both of these incidents stand as proof to refute the old adage that Canadian history is dull. What it is instead is messy, especially when looking at event of the past through the lens of the present. I am in no way trying to defend either man for the actions they took against the aboriginal community. Deliberately trying to inflict sickness and death is inexcusable.

Sadly though, it is a part of history. The country's real history and if we are going to honour men like Edward Cornwallis and Jeffrey Amherst for the contributions they made to founding what is now Canada, we have to also acknowledge the darker side of what they did.

It is not an "either-or" situation. Lord Cornwallis both founded Halifax and was responsible for having hundreds of Mi'kmaq scalped. Taking down the statue won't change either historical fact any more than putting up the statue did. The same for Jeffrey Amherst.

It is time to start telling all our history, not just the parts we like. That is especially true for those of us that happen to be white, since for the most part, we have had free reign in how that history is written. Both these cases indicate that is starting to change and it is long past time.

The way aboriginal people have been treated in Canada is a national disgrace and the root causes of that behaviour stem from the actions of men like Amherst and Cornwallis. That story has to be on the plaque too. Hopefully at 150, Canada has become mature enough to acknowledge our full history.

- Andy Walker is an Island-based writer and commentator.

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