December 29, 1995 Halifax Herald
Following publicizing of the violence surrounding several of the legal disputes which occurred between First Nations people and federal and provincial governments during 1995, I received several phone calls and letters. Sadly, most of these communiques were not made to ask me to clarify where I stood in relation to the legal niceties of the events in question. What inspired them was a desire to castigate and wonder why we "Indians don't stop our nonsense and obey the law."
I've tried in vain, to point out to these bigots that in most cases, the violence used was not instigated, sanctioned nor supported by the vast majority of natives. After talking to such narrow-minded people, its easy to conclude that the same mentality still lingers which caused the British, in the 1700s, to include in the peace treaties made with our peoples this clause: "That if there happens any robbery or outrage committed by any of the Indians, the Tribes or Tribes they belong to shall cause satisfaction and restitution to be made to the parties injured." Holding an entire race of people hostage and responsible for the actions of one of its citizens is an action that only illogical minds could ever sanction.
The urge to negatively stereotype is a rampant illness in the modern world and is evident in many diverse ways. For example, the Spryfield section of Halifax, because of the rowdiness of its distant past, has long been falsely labelled as a hot-bed of crime and violence. Accordingly, many consider it as an undesirable place to reside. But I can say from the experience of 25 years of mostly contented residency that it is just as safe, or more so, than other, classier sections of the city.
In time, perhaps, the world's diverse peoples can rid themselves of a tendency to negatively typecast as demonic or inferior - because of colour, religion, ethnic origin, financial status, and so on - whole races of people, neighbourhoods or individuals. If so, it will mark the end of human conflicts!
However, in the meantime, we can take a big step towards finding universal tolerance for the differences of others in our society by making a genuine effort to divest ourselves of the ignorance we hold about each other. In the process we will have to overcome a hateful and sinful human trait - believing without question the worst of another. In this regard, we often ignore what human decency and logic mandates: to inform and ask persons most affected by the nastiness to clarify the situation!
And sadly, in regards to believing the worst, most of us have seen that attempts to damage a person's reputation will often be initiated by a person's family, friends, or people who he/she has aided when society has falsely accused or abandoned them. Unfortunately, this tendency to believe the worst as truth is also applied to whole nations of people - as witnessed by the false and negative views about natives still held by many non-natives.
In direct conflict with these stereotypical, disparaging, lazy-Natives views, I offer the following as the root cause of our often contentious relations with current Canadian governments and as the main cause of our dependency for sustenance on federal handouts: For over three centuries, natives have not been permitted to exercise control over their destinies. Everything from the most menial of self-governing tasks has been taken over by White governments, and administered by them on our behalf. This condescending paternalism is directly related to past Canadian government views which, because our cultures differed from European, deemed us to be incapable of functioning as human beings.
Further, it should also be noted that the racist laws we were forced to live under for three centuries, which spawned the stagnating social programs we had shoved down our throats, were not designed by Canada to preserve ancient First Nation cultures; they were designed for just the opposite - to destroy! All this has left us under-educated, paralyzed and poverty stricken in a modern world. Yet we are now perceived by many as the architects of our misfortunes.
In the future, before jumping to unfounded conclusions, I would urge that this be kept in mind: The mounting legal problems faced by Canada in its relationships with First Nations were created by denying our Peoples basic human and civil rights, accompanied by Canada's failure to always administer our land and other affairs consistent with its trustee responsibilities.
For several decades to come, stemming from all this, First Nations People will need the generous assistance and understanding of non-native Canadians, in order to escape from the hole history has dug for them.
If you have questions about the Micmac or other First Nations, or about the building frustration among our young people with the federal claims settlement policy and their anger with being denied amid plenty, don't be satisfied with embracing the negative stereotypes that society has bequeathed you. With an open mind, call or write people such as myself and open a dialogue that will help you understand a problem that Canada has, by treating its Native people with contempt and disdain, created for itself!
Daniel N. Paul