80 Years Later Nova Scotia Updates Its Cultural Identity

the government of Nova Scotia has set out a new identity in a document called Nova Scotia’s Culture Action Plan

Nova Scotia Has Launched a More Inclusive Version of Itself With New Culture Action Plan

In the 1930s, the government of Nova Scotia set out an ambitious plan to re-imagine the province. As dissected in the book, In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia, over the next two decades it made us Scottish by creating the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, giving the province an official tartan and putting bagpipers at the New Brunswick border.

A tourism pamphlet from the era depicts the “six native races of Nova Scotia.” Surprisingly to the modern eye, all six “native races” are in fact shades of white: Acadians, Gaels, Germans and so on. In this government-backed worldview of Nova Scotia, there are no Mi’kmaq, no African Nova Scotians.

Last week, the current incarnation of the government of Nova Scotia set out a new identity in a document called Nova Scotia’s Culture Action Plan. Tony Ince, a former actor and now minister for Communities, Culture and Heritage, said they “deliberately adopted a broad, inclusive perspective of what culture is – and what it can be, with more support, more engagement, and more people pulling on the line together.”

The cover is a multi-coloured quilt, drawn from the province’s long quilting tradition of creating objects that are useful and beautiful – a fine goal for any artist. It also works on a metaphorical level, letting us join our cultures in a way that stirs ours souls.

The first goal listed in the plan is promoting Mi’kmaq culture. Given that we have 27 provincial museums and 0 of them are about Mi’kmaq culture, that seems like a good idea. Current research puts about 97 percent of this land’s human history in the pre-European days.

Education is another goal. Practically, that means adding more knowledge about Mi’kmaq, African Nova Scotian and European cultures of Nova Scotia in Grades Primary to 12.

I’m excited about this plan. As a writer, I have always striven in my work to help build a common history of our land that honours all of our ancestors and tells the truth about how now is the sum of then. The government plan says “a culture is not just built on successes, pride and goodwill; a culture also holds onto our defeats, our grief, and our most shameful decisions.”

Like many other Nova Scotians, I’ve supported Daniel Paul, author of We Were Not the Savages, in his 30-year effort to take down the shameful Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax because it celebrates a man who brought much grief to this land. Cornwallis, that musty genocidaire, would have been fine with those six native races of Nova Scotia – he tried to ethnically cleanse the Mi’kmaq from Mi’kma’ki; he recommended a man who bought and sold African Nova Scotians to take over for him as governor.

I doubt he’d approve of the new Mi’kmaq-first plan.

The current government’s plan ends with this thought: “We are committed to … building a Nova Scotia whose thriving, creative culture and economy truly reflects our diversity, ingenuity, and enviable way of life.”

That sounds a lot more interesting than an all-white quilt. Writers, put your pens to work.

Written By

Jon Tattrie is the author of The Hermit of Africville; Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax; Redemption Songs: How Bob Marley's Nova Scotia Song Lights the Way Past Racism and several other titles.

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