April 7, 1995 Halifax Herald

In a democratic society, silence is not golden

Without freedom of speech, the flame of democracy soon sputters and dies. Therefore, in a true democracy, the citizen's right to speak, write and broadcast their opinions is pre-eminent. The defining of whether an opinion is sensible or stupid, conventional or outrageous, depends almost entirely upon the perception of the receiver. However, there are some restraints and responsibilities that go with free speech; the authors must not incite to riot or advocate public disorder, must not libel or defame, and people with opposing views must have a right and an opportunity to be heard.

Beginning with entering the public arena in 1986, as Executive Director of the Confederacy of Mainland Micmacs, I have had occasion to become embroiled in debates that have crisscrossed the spectrum of Micmac existence in this province. I've taken on those who uttered such outrageous things as: "the Micmacs will coat the province, from Yarmouth to Sydney, with the blood of our wildlife," "since responsible government was established here by Europeans."

If I were to put my mind to it, and space permitted, an extensive list of racist and outrageous comments by white leaders about First Nations cultures or people could be made. But with limited space, I can only relay one more; it was made by a white male speaker at a public meeting: "Our ancestors came to the Americas, colonizing and developing two vast and vacant continents." Obviously, this gentleman did not see the tens of millions of Native Americans, who occupied the Americas for at least 50,000 years, prior to European invasion, as human occupiers.

Because I have had, as one person put it, "the courage and the gall" to publicly question, protest and rebut the accuracy of the record of First Nation and European relations in this country many people have taken the liberty to tag me with labels. Here are a few: "fabricator" "racist" "revisionist" "ungrateful creature." In addition to the before-mentioned, I've been accused of being a member of a wide variety of colourful and militant special interests-groups and of belonging to every political party in the country.

Well, for those interested, this is the way I label myself: I am a true believer in responsible government, responsible citizenship and democratic ideals. I advocate establishing a true democracy where people govern, not politicians. I believe that society must care for its needy and infirm; and I believe that governments must be financially responsible, while at the same time maintaining a safety net of essential services for the citizens to rely upon in times of personal crisis. I do not believe in government paternalism; it is a destroyer of personal initiative and it creates dependency - in the long run, it promotes stagnation and the financial collapse of a country.

On the evidence of the before mentioned, I don't think a specific label fits. Thus, I propose that the best label for me is one that covers all the bases: a Liberal, Conservative, Reform minded Democrat!

As a Liberal, Conservative, Reform-minded Democrat, I encourage those who disagree or agree with me to come forward and state their case -- in a democracy, silence is not golden. I feel a need to make this declaration for another reason; a few people have told me they had refrained from publicly disagreeing with me because of my Micmac ancestry and a wish not to offend. I was insulted by this and found it offensive. So please, don't hesitate to write to this paper or to me and express your opinions. I write the column as a person who loves dialogue and debate, not as a member of a racial group.

As a matter of note, opinions of First Nations citizens have long been ignored or patronized in this country; but I do hope we have passed that stage, and have seen the time arrive where opinions are judged on content, not race.

In spite of what I just said, and the past mistreatment of our Peoples, and all its other warts, I love this country. I fully believe in the free speech it permits and have no fear of expressing myself. For instance, this is how I feel about Canada: I consider myself a Canadian first, with special Micmac aboriginal interests. I don't own any loyalty whatsoever to any foreign country; Britain, France, China and elsewhere may be interesting places to learn about or visit, but I consider this country to be more interesting than all those foreign lands combined!

"Canada, our home and native land" is a great motto. Letís end hyphenated Canadianism and become truly loyal and devoted to our country. Citizens whose ancestors or who, themselves hail from foreign lands should take pride in their origins, but should not try to live as if the values of the countries they hailed from were transported here. Canada has evolved its own set of values and does not need foreign ones. Itís time for Canadians to stop trying to be more British than the British, more French than the French and so on, be Canadian and be proud! Canada is a great country; working together, with open minds, we can make it even better!

Daniel N. Paul


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