As thousands of people flocked to downtown Halifax to take part in Canada Day celebrations, a small group gathered at the foot of an Edward Cornwallis statue to try to call attention to darker chapters of the country's past.

Cornwallis was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. Later that year, he issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaq people.

Chief Grizzly Mamma, who is originally from British Columbia but now lives in Halifax, shaved her head and then placed her hair — which had been braided in two sections — at the foot of the statue.

Edward Cornwallis

Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax in 1749. Later that year, he issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaq people. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"Cornwallis, you took my last brothers and sisters. I cut off genocide, genocide no more," she said, standing in front of the statue while holding the braids in her hand. "You took their scalps, you can have mine too."

Cornwallis controversy

In recent years, there has been debate about whether or not to keep Cornwallis's name on public places.

cornwallis protest canada day 2017

A protest was held in front of the Edward Cornwallis statue in downtown Halifax on Canada to shed light on some of the country's darker history. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"All I wanted to do is to put out awareness of all the damage that's been done to the air, water and land and our treaty right ... same with our human rights," said Chief Grizzly Mamma.

Shaela Kinting was one of about 50 people who watched as she shaved her head in front of the statue.

"I cried just at the symbolic meaning of it. It's very powerful, it's a very powerful statement and very brave," Kinting said. 

'A very powerful statement'

Like many of the activists and Indigenous people who attended the protest, she said she doesn't like what the Cornwallis statue represents.

Chief Grizzly Mamma

Chief Grizzly Mamma's hair was braided before she shaved her head. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"It's just a big symbol for not just the past, but the present and how systematically people like the murder and missing indigenous women and brothers, the poisoning of waters ... and the government clearly doesn't care," said Kinting.

She questioned the millions of dollars the government is spending on Canada 150 celebrations.

"Just like party stuff to celebrate while children still go without drinking water in this country," she said. 

'Healing from those harms'

Tayla Paul, who is originally from Halifax, said Chief Grizzly Mamma hasn't had an easy life.

Chief Grizzly Mamma

After the protest, Chief Grizzly Mamma gave everyone who attended the rally a hug. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"I know how much she's carried with her from the impacts of a genocidal system and the residential school and across the board native issues have impacted her life," said Paul.

"This was a really huge personal part of her journey in healing from those harms and I hope she does well from that."

Counter protest

As Chief Grizzly Mamma cut her hair, five men wearing black polo shirts with yellow trim approached the rally carrying a large Red Ensign flag. The flag was Canada's until 1965, when the current maple leaf flag was adopted.

Chief Grizzly Mamma's supporters prevented the group from getting near her or the statue. Some of them debated with the men. One of the men said, "You're disrespecting General Cornwallis."

The discussion only lasted a few minutes before the men left the park. Paul said the interaction made her feel uneasy.

Counter protest

Chief Grizzly Mamma's protest was nearly disrupted when a group of men wearing black and yellow polo shirts showed up carrying the Red Ensign flag. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"A monumental part of this woman's life was interrupted by trivial people out celebrating colonization, by people laughing and joking and it really goes to show the effects this Canadian narrative has had because it is an ongoing thing," Paul said.

"Their flag was the Dominion flag of Canada so they were referencing a time when there were scalping proclamations, not that it's off the books now, but they were referencing a time when genocide was full fledged."