August 26, 1994 Halifax Herald

Province must step up efforts on Micmac self-rule

In the face of what seems to be a forgone eventuality, the return of the Micmac Nation to a self-governing mode, there are two very important supporting influences which require immediate attention. First and foremost, although the present provincial government has made all the right noises when making pronouncements about its intentions towards honouring treaties and aboriginal rights, there has not been any legislative action taken to give legal force to their verbal declarations.

Secondly, is it possible for the Micmac Nation to achieve viable self-government when they quite literally don't have a land base to work with?

The first problem can easily be resolved at the next sitting of the legislature. All that is needed is for that body to enact legislation that would see the province officially embrace the reality that the Micmac, a distinct race of people, have an unarguable right to determine their own futures.

The initial legislation need not be overly cumbersome or explicit. A simple statement of fact would suffice for the moment.

The second problem is more complex. The question is how to right a wrong of history. When the English - by the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht - took over Acadia from the French in 1713, the Micmac were the possessors of a vast tract of land.

Their holdings included Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick (north of the Saint John River), eastern Quebec, the Gaspe peninsula, and northern Maine.

Just seventy years later, the British decided that Micmac title had been extinguished and appropriated all their lands unto themselves. Here in Nova Scotia, they published their arrogant assumption in 1783 by giving the Micmac licences of occupation for 18,105 acres of land.

In doing so, they were not gracious enough to make these minuscule allotments grants of land: they simply loaned the Nation some of the land they had illegally seized from them.

Since then, Nova Scotia governments have made a few grants of land to the Micmac. As of this date, the Nation holds approximately 28,000 acres, consisting mostly of clay pits, mountains, and bogs.

This is minuscule when placed beside the provincial total of approximately 13.5 million acres.

Somewhere along the line, an opening must be made towards resolving the issue of aboriginal land rights in this province. Perhaps a first step in this direction could see the province returning to Micmac control 100,000 acres as a token of good intent.

This could then be followed up by some serious negotiations in relation to resolving our aboriginal title claim to the province. At the outset, in order to insure that negotiations are kept moving along smoothly, there should be provisions made to move instances of contention into the courts for resolution when an impasse occurs.

With resolve and dedication to purpose, an out-of-court settlement of this long-standing and contentious issue should be possible.

Centuries ago, a wrong was committed against an innocent people by European Nations when they appropriated unto themselves by way of a despicable justification, without compensation or due process, another Nation's property and also in the process virtually destroyed its culture.

Surely, in this modern age, it is time for Canadians of European descent to reject the following philosophy, expressed by Lescarbot in discussing France's right to Acadia in 1618, which provided a warped rational for the illegal expropriation of the lands of many indigenous American Nations, the Micmac among them:

"The Earth pertaining then by Divine right to the children of God, there is here no question in applying the law and policy of Nations, by which it would not be permissible to claim the territory of another. This being so, we must posse it and preserve its natural inhabitants, and plant therein with determination the name of Jesus Christ, and of France...."

Using religious conviction as a justification to steal the properties, or destroy the culture of another is an action repugnant to any person who harbours within a sense of justice.

In view of this, is it not only reasonable for this province to step up its efforts to right an injustice of history by helping the Micmac Nation to continue the task of reconstructing its civilization?

Daniel N. Paul


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