April 19, 1996 Halifax Herald

Mi'kmaq remember Chief Kopit as true hero

Chief Kopit (translates Beaver), Christian name Jean Baptiste, was born to Paul and Cecile Kopit in the Shubenacadie valley in the year 1698. To date, I have been unable to ascertain his exact date of death; however, the record shows he was still alive in the 1760s, which indicates he may have lived to a ripe old age. He and his parents were Roman Catholics. Kopit spoke Mi'kmaq and French.

In later years, he added the title Major to his name, possibly in the belief - because Europeans of those days were known to bow and scrape before those who were titled or in authority - that a fancy title would enhance his negotiating powers with the English. If this were the case, it demonstrates Kopit's ability to use alien cultural values to advance his cause.

I say this because in Mi'kmaq society, kowtowing to leadership was unheard of. The title which a leader held was incidental; his performance was all that counted. Sieur de Diereville wrote about early Mi'kmaq leadership: "...here there is no inherited position due to birth or linage; merit alone uplifts." Thus, the only method open to a Mi'kmaq leader to get the people to do his bidding was persuasion.

Kopit probably was the Chief of the Shubenacadie District at the age of 28. What appears to be his "pictograph" (beaver) appears beside the name "John Baptist" on the documents which ratified, at Port-Royal in 1726, the 1725 Treaty. However, the event which brought him historical prominence was the English decision to transport large numbers of Protestant settlers to Nova Scotia, and to build a fort at Chebucto Harbour.

The Mi'kmaq at first welcomed Edward Cornwallis and company to the province. But at a meeting held in Cape Breton, the British told the Chiefs about their settlement plans for the province, which alarmed the Mi'kmaq about the white intrusion into their land to the extent that they renewed their war against Great Britain. In retaliation, Cornwallis decided to make it a capital offense to be a Mi'kmaq, and began to offer bounties for the scalps of Mi'kmaq men, women and children, and for the scalps of any whites assisting them.

Dr. Jeffrey Plank of the Department of History, University of Cincinnati, in a paper delivered to the 1995 annual meeting of the American Historical society in Hawaii, gives this description of Cornwallis's actions: "...if the Micmac chose to resist his expropriation of land, the governor intended to conduct a war unlike any that had been fought in Nova Scotia before. If there was to be a war, he did not want the war to end with a peace agreement. "It would be better to "root" the Micmac out of the peninsula decisively and forever. The war began soon after the governor made this statement."

Plank comments on the situation in 1751: "...everyone involved understood the conflict to be a race war, and that the Micmac and British were single mindedly determined to drive each other from...Nova Scotia... after two years of inconclusive fighting... uncertainties and second thoughts began to disturb...the British community. By the summer of 1751, Governor Cornwallis and his advisors had begun to doubt whether it was tactically feasible, or advisable, to eliminate the Micmac altogether from the peninsula. They developed an alternate strategy, involving the construction of trading posts and forts designed to control the Micmac and exploit them economically. This...conciliatory policy gained tacit support from the Board of Trade, which had mildly reprimanded Cornwallis in 1750 for his harshness."

Cornwallis spent the next year, ending with his resignation in the summer of 1752, trying to find a Mi'kmaq chief to negotiate a peace with, none would. What could he expect after his inhuman proclamation? After his departure, in response to the colonial government's overtures for peace, Chief Kopit approached Governor Peregrine Hopson with a peace proposal. After agreeing on specifics, the Shubenacadie District and the colonial government signed, on November 22nd, the Treaty of 1752.

The peace was interrupted in 1753, primarily because it was breached by the failure of the English to punish two white men who had barbarously murdered and scalped 6 Mi'kmaqs - an infant, a woman, a young child, and three men - in Kopit's District. (The Mi'kmaq had rescued the killers from a ship wreck and had nourished them back to health.) If Governor Hopson had arrested and tried these criminals in a accordance with the terms of the treaty, the war would have ended at this point.

Plank, commenting on his efforts, and the efforts of other historians to define the character of Kopit, comments: "Cope...was unclassifiable... Undefinable people cannot be stereotyped.

Plank ends with this: "After...the Treaty of 1752, the British never returned to their old policy of driving the Micmac off the peninsula. Instead, the government searched for "friendly Indians," alternating...between violence and negotiations...But by confusing the British, briefly upsetting their negative expectations and providing a short-lived, tantalizing offer of reconciliation...(Cope) helped change Nova Scotia's politics forever."

Whatever one's views, it has to be acknowledged that Chief Kopit fought bravely, in a hostile English social environment, to preserve the dignity of his people. He is remembered today by the Mi'kmaq as the hero he was!

Daniel N. Paul


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