Indigenous leader calls for 'friendship and peace' ahead of Cornwallis protest
Pam Glode-Desrochers hopes protest to remove statue is a chance for dialogue, not conflict
Indigenous leaders in Nova Scotia are calling for co-operation, not confrontation as protesters prepare to topple the Edward Cornwallis statue in downtown Halifax this weekend.
The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs and the executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre have joined Halifax Mayor Mike Savage in cautioning protestors about the consequences of forcibly removing the statue.
The mayor said an expert panel to consider what to do with the contentious landmark will be convened by September, but that's not fast enough for the organizer of the protest.
Suzanne Patles, who created the Facebook event Removing Cornwallis, said if the city doesn't promise to remove the statue by Natal Day, protesters will do it themselves on Saturday.
Chiefs working with the city
Cornwallis was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749, the same year he offered a bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.
Chief Deborah Robinson of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs said she understands why people want the statue removed.
"But, we want community members to know that we have discussed the removal of the Cornwallis name and statue with Mayor Savage and will continue to push for this," said Robinson in a statement.
"There is a process to engage with one another, and while this may take time, it does not mean that work is not being done."
For Pam Glode-Desrochers, the executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre, the statue and the debate around it can be used to teach people about the dark history of Halifax.
"I worry sometimes that by removing everything people forget, and I don't want people to forget what has happened. I want people to ensure it doesn't happen again," said Glode-Desrochers.
She added that there needs to be more recognition of Mi'kmaq history and culture alongside the landmarks that already exist.
Glode-Desrochers hopes Saturday's protest is peaceful, and a chance for real dialogue among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
"We talk about the treaty, friendship and peace. To me, that's really what we need to be focused on. It's not tearing things down. It's not trying to hurt each other," said Glode-Desrochers.
In April, rookie Coun. Shawn Cleary asked Halifax council to reconsider using Cornwallis's name after a similar effort failed in 2016.
That process is now underway, he said, even if it's slow.
"Enough is being done in the sense that we're moving down this road. I don't think it's fast enough, no. I wish we could move faster," said Cleary.
Cleary said given what happened on Canada Day, when five members of a group called the Proud Boys interrupted an Indigenous ceremony, he's not surprised the debate over Cornwallis has re-ignited.
Patles, the organizer of the event, said that's why it's important to take the statue down.
"Right now a lot of these white-supremist groups are using principles that Cornwallis used as tools of hatred towards the Indigenous people," she told CBC's Maritime Noon.
Police keeping an eye on protest
A spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police said they're aware of the planned protest and they'll be monitoring it.
As for whether the statue will be allowed to come down, Savage told CBC News the statue is public property and there are laws in place to protect it.
The afternoon event on Saturday will include music and speakers, said Patles, but she wouldn't comment on how protesters plan to remove the statue.
"People are trying to paint this as a violent event that is going to happen, that a riot is going to ensue in the city. People need to come out and see what exactly is going to happen," she said.
With files from CBC's Maritime Noon