Posted on September 19, 2011

Africville Heritage Trust Defends Hiring White Woman as Director

Bradley Bouzane, Canada, September 16, 2011

Some members of Nova Scotia’s black community are upset over the selection of a white person to head up the Africville Heritage Trust, but those responsible for the decision stand behind their choice.

Carole Nixon, an Anglican minister from Toronto, was selected to take charge of the group, which is tasked with operating a museum and church to commemorate the evacuation and destruction of a storied black community in Halifax in the 1960s. The church has its opening ceremonies set for Sept. 25.

Burnley Jones, a Halifax-based lawyer and human rights activist, has taken exception to the appointment and feels it is “insulting” to Nova Scotia’s African-Canadian population who were evicted from their homes in the 1960s to make room for a bridge.

“It’s ludicrous, it’s unbelievable and it’s insulting,” Jones said.

“The executive director, as the senior paid staff person, would represent the organization, the trust and the community in the interpretive centre. Clearly, this person had to be African-Canadian, African-Nova Scotian or even somebody from Africville.

“Instead, they chose a white woman from Ontario. Certainly if it were a woman’s organization dealing with feminist issues . . . you would never appoint a man to it. It would be unheard of and unthinkable. Or if it were an organization for francophones, you certainly wouldn’t put an anglophone (as executive director).”

Nixon has been in her new role for nearly three months and Daurene Lewis, chairwoman of the Africville Heritage Trust, said qualifications–and not race–were the primary reasons for her selection.

Lewis said it would be counterproductive to restrict someone from the job simply because of the colour of their skin.

“To dismiss somebody because of race is not acceptable,” Lewis said Friday. “The whole point is we’re moving on and showing some maturity in race relations, looking at an individual’s qualifications as the determining factor.

“It would be a disservice to put someone in the position if they are not qualified to do the job.”

Lewis said key among Nixon’s qualifications for the job are her sound project management skills, financial management background and impressive fundraising abilities. Her most recent posting as a minister was in Shelburne, N.S.

She said ample opportunities were afforded to countless people to seek the position, which was advertised nationally and went through a hiring committee.

But Jones argued that a change should be made and that Nixon cannot sufficiently represent the group because she has no association with the issues faced by those in the Africville area in the 60s.

“People from any group certainly have the right to have members of their group interpret and lead their struggle, and in this case it’s being denied.”

Lewis, however, said that while Nixon’s post is a high-profile position, her duties do not include key decision-making related to the interpretation of what those families endured.

Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly formally apologized for the Africville evictions in 2010. Some $3 million in compensation was offered to the local community association, and to construct a museum about the community. Lewis said a further $1 million is needed through fundraising, which is one of the main objectives of Nixon’s position.

“The executive director is not the head of the organization and they do not interpret the feelings or the story (of Africville),” Lewis said. “That’s our role as the board.

“We knew that it could possibly be a concern to people, but looking at what her qualifications and experience are, we were quite prepared to address any comments or concerns people might have.”