September 23, 1994 Halifax Herald

Canada's early apartheid rivaled South Africa's

Will money alone cure the multitude of social problems being faced by the residents of Davis Inlet, Big Cove and the vast majority of First Nations in Canada? The answer is a resounding "no." Over the course of the next few columns, I will try to provide historical reasons for my conclusion and suggest how a long-term solution might be found.

In 1867, Canada accepted a problem from its colonial rulers - created by their dedication to the principle of racial debasement of visible minorities - and nurtured it with the utmost devotion for well over a century. Without cause, it unreasonably treated its indigenous peoples with contempt and subjected them to the depths of dehumanizing racial persecution.

During this period, Canada practised a form of apartheid that would have made the former rulers of South Africa green with envy. It, by law and policy, denied its First Nations people citizenship and the right to vote; tried to brainwash them into believing that they were descended from inferior civilizations and that they were, in fact, an inferior people; it denied them education and adequate medical services; barred them from many public and private establishments; to speed up the demolition of their languages and cultures, created residential schools; barred them from performing traditional dances, etc.

Almost from day one of their occupation of Micmac country, the English institutionalized debasement of the Micmac people. Can you imagine the arrogance and the superiority complex of a people who would come into your country and offer you these goodies, as the English did to the Micmac in 1715?

First, they must proclaim George I as their sovereign; second, acknowledge that George I had become owner of all their properties; third, agree to permit English settlements in all their villages, in order to make the people all one. This was the birth of an English policy that would unerringly strive for the demise of the First Nations of Canada by assimilation. This course of action, once instigated, was followed without much deviation by Colonial and Canadian governments right up to, and including, modern times.

During the "colonial period" the Micmac, at the hands of the English, were stripped of human dignity; suffered the pains of outright genocide and, later, the same by starvation; had all their lands taken over by the usurper; and were reduced to trying to survive in the depths of imposed squalor.

Perhaps these few quotes from an 1843 report by the late statesman Joseph Howe, who was the province's first Indian Commissioner, written in defence of the expenditures made from his inadequate budget of L300, best describes the Micmac situation.

In discussing the mortality rate and the possible extinction of the Micmac: “At this rate the whole race would be extinct in 40 years, and half a century hence the very existence of the tribe would be as a dream and a tradition to our grandchildren, who would find it difficult to imagine the features or dwelling of a Micmac...

“...Assuming the statistics of 1838 as a basis of calculation, and deducing 10 percent, your Lordship will perceive that there must be 1300 Souls still in this Province, appealing to the sympathies of every honourable mind by the contrast of their misfortunes with our prosperity, their fading numbers with our numerical advancement, their ignorance and destitution with the wealth and civilization which surrounds and presses upon them from every side.”

In discussing the quality of the Indian Reserve lands he had at his disposal for use in trying to prevent the extinction of the tribe: “It is to be regretted that so little judgement has been exercised in the selection of them; the same quantity, if reserved in spots where the soil was good, on navigable streams, or in places where fish were abundant, and game within reach, would now be a valuable resource.”

Mr. Howe closed his report with these words: “I trust, however, that should your excellency not be satisfied with the results of these first experiments, the blame may be laid upon the Commissioner, rather than be charged upon the capacity, or urged against the claims, of a people for whose many good qualities a more extended intercourse has only increased my respect; and who have, if not by Treaty, by all the ties of humanity, a claim upon the Government of the Country, which nothing but their entire extinction, or their elevation to a more permanent and happy position in the scale of Society, can ever entirely discharge.

Next, the Indian Act

Daniel N. Paul


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