It's not often that eighteenth-century Nova Scotia makes national headlines, but the debate over the renaming of Cornwallis Junior High has generated quite the discussion. The Globe & Mail picked it up, and more recently Active History has published articles both for and against the name change.
The school name debate has covered the predicable topics: on the one hand, Cornwallis paid for Mi'kmaw scalps, and past "heroes" of empire are not immune to historical reconsideration. On the other hand, the Mi'kmaq were paid by the French for British scalps, and we must understand historical actors as products of their time. These are all valid arguments, but there is no clear resolution to this debate.
Perhaps we should simply put an end to naming institutions after people -- that might prevent many of these issues. I myself attended a public school named after a member of the royal family who once admitted that he would like to be reborn as a certain feminine hygiene product. I doubt anyone on the naming committee saw that coming.
At the very least, someone needs to explain Godwin's law to Daniel Paul, as evidenced by his argument in the pages of the The Globe:
“Would it be nice to have that school re-named Hitler Junior High?” he asked. “It makes a big difference. If there is ever going to be a racially equal society you have to clean up all the mess from the past.”
Notably, Paul's books is perhaps the first example of a title in which which "the" is the most important word. We Were Not THE Savages suggests that someone else was. This is hardly a useful starting point for any debate. And it is debate that we need, not attempts to "clean up all the mess from the past." The past is messy, and it's our job to wade through it, attempt to understand it, and explain its relevance. The students of Cornwallis Junior High (or whatever it will be called -- I vote for Degrassi) would likely benefit more from explaining than from cleaning.