September 9, 1994 Halifax Herald

Tragic after-effects of centuries of racist persecution

I've been asked so many times, by non-First Nations people, about the cause of the high rate of suicides, violent crimes, alcoholism, drug abuse and so on within First Nation communities that I couldn't put a number on the times asked if I tried. My response to these queries has more often than not been, “you figure it out then give me your views.”

In order to help them figure it out, I spent over four years of my life writing a book called We were Not the Savages. I wrote this book for people to use as a tool to help in their efforts to understand. Yet I still get asked the same questions. And, interestingly enough, not more than a handful of the people who tried to come up with an explanation were even in the same ballpark as the answer.

Well today I will try to provide an answer. What has caused and continues to cause children in such places as Davis Inlet to overdose on drugs and substances, the suicides at Big Cove and other reserves too numerous to mention here, the alcoholism, drug dependency, and so on, among our people is quite simple. Try the after-effects of centuries of unmitigated racist persecution for an answer.

Pick up a copy of my book and read it. Don't read it to entertain yourself; read it to track two hundred and eighty one years of continuous racist persecution by an English-led country against just one Native American Nation, the Micmac. Then keep in mind that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to revelations of the abuses and degradations suffered by Canada's First Nation peoples.

A well-respected African Nova Scotian columnist wrote me a letter earlier this year and I quote from it the following:

“Several years ago, I watched a panel discussion that had several minority members, including a Black and a Micmac...the Micmac representative said that Blacks were slaves in the early days of European colonization, but his people were lower than slaves...At that time, I didn't understand what he meant. What, I wondered, is lower than being a piece of property to be bought and sold like a horse or cow?...Then, in the chapter of your book titled "The Edge of Extinction," I read about how your people were systematically starved to death. At least a slave gets fed, simply because the owner has a vested interest in keeping him or her alive to maintain the slave's value as property...So, thanks to you, I know what it is to be "lower than a slave" - to not even have value as human chattel or property...I know I'll learn more as I finish the book. Right now, though, I'd recommend that it be required reading in all Nova Scotia schools.” - Charles Saunders, February 2, 1994.

To suffer being treated without respect and the barest traces of human decency is the most humiliating experience a human being can suffer. A White friend once told me he knew how I felt being denied. I responded that, no, he didn't. There is no way to describe how it feels to be debased by racism. To be arrested and shoved in jail for drinking one bottle of beer, to be denied citizenship and the right to vote in your own country's elections, to be barred from establishments and institutions, etc., all because of what you are - a native person - and not what you did is an humiliating experience that no human should ever have to suffer.

The trauma you experience by being subjected to racist persecution practically destroys your self-esteem. To overcome the experience of being brainwashed by a foreign society into believing that you are descended from an inferior civilization, peopled by inferior human beings, is nearly impossible. I can vouch for this personally; its been a struggle of mine for more than half a century. Although I now know that I'm descended from one of the most loving, caring and just civilizations that ever existed, I still haven't completely overcome my confidence problems!

In upcoming columns, I will continue this discourse.

Daniel N. Paul


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