April 21, 1995 Halifax Herald
"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." A great quote. I don't know who coined it; therefore, proper accreditation cannot be given. However, when writing or talking about the intolerant views of people, I prefer to use ignorance as an excuse for the intolerance displayed. "Stupidity" only comes into play when people indicate, by their continued prejudices, that they are too stupid to learn how to recognize and cure their ignorance.
This said, ignorance still bedevils the Mi'kmaq in this province. The following imparts two examples.
After I pointed out to responsible parties the inaccuracy and inappropriateness of the messages imprinted on highway exit ramp signs for Annapolis Royal and Bedford they agreed to change them.
The first sign designated to be changed was put up by the Department of Transportation at the request of the town of Annapolis Royal on highway 101. It read: "Annapolis Royal, c. 1605. Canada's Oldest Settlement." It now reads: "Annapolis Royal, c. 1605. Stroll Through the Centuries"
The second sign was put up at the request of the Town of Bedford on highway 102. It read: "Bedford, A Stopping Place Since 1503." It now reads, "Bedford, A Traditional Stopping Place"
The original messages on these signs signified that Provincial and Town officials deemed only the four centuries or so of white presence in Nova Scotia as human occupation. By ignoring 10,000 years of Mi'kmaq domicile, probably without conscious intent, these officials denied the human origins of the Mi'kmaq people. Also, lamentably, the original messages provide us with a clear indication of just how deeply systemic racist views are imbedded in the mentality of the majority population .
Back to the positive. The Municipality of Annapolis County got into the spirit of goodwill by designating the main courtroom in its historic courthouse at Annapolis Royal as "The Grand Chief Membertou Room." The following is the dedication used at the plaguing ceremony held on March 15, 1994:
"Grand Chief Membertou of Acadia is recognized as one of the greatest leaders of his time. He had a remarkable, long life-span (about 1505 -1611); and excelled as a warrior, law-giver, and autmoin (medicine man). Grand Chief Membertou played a crucial role in the successful establishment of European settlers in 1605 and was an honoured guest at the Order of Good Cheer. Annapolis County was the centre of Grand Chief Membertou's territory and it is only fitting that a man revered for justice and wisdom should be honoured in the Annapolis Royal Court House, one of Canada's National Monuments."
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly and warmly thank those who co-operated so fully, by lending their support to making the changes stated: Former Premier Don Cameron, the leadership of the town of Annapolis Royal, Warden Harry DeLong of the Municipality of Annapolis County and its Council, Bedford's Mayor Peter Kelly and Council, and the committee members and staff of the three municipalities. The open minds they displayed for change kindles a hope for future progress.
The changes made by the three municipalities are not Earth-shaking events by themselves or, for that matter, combined. What they do signify, after the passage of more than four centuries since European invasion began, is an emerging willingness among the White population to finally acknowledge that the ancient presence of our ancestors in this area was a human presence. Although belated, better late than never!
Further, I hope that these small acts are only a forerunner of events which will someday lead to a complete reconciliation of differences between our Peoples.
Letís examine the differences. The Mi'kmaq originate from a culture whose people believed firmly in the humanity of the Great Spirit and who maintained their personal honour by being hospitable and generous. Because of this, upon their arrival on these shores, the Whites were greeted with hospitality and respect. The European comes from a society which is based primarily on the concept of personal acquisition. Although this made the values of European and Native American cultures as different as night and day, it doesn't mean the differences can't be bridged.
If looking for a simple way to describe the cultural differences, it could be said that the Mi'kmaq originates from a "you" society concept, and the European comes from one based more on a "me" philosophy. With open minds, maybe we can all move more towards the "you" type of society once enjoyed by the Mi'kmaq. If successful, what a wonderful world it would be.
Imagine living in a world where everyone, motivated by a "you" philosophy, carry out their day-to-day activities with the idea of pleasing others! No more shoddy merchandising, low-quality restaurant meals, etc. - just quality product, service and contented people!
Daniel N. Paul