January 26, 1996 Halifax Herald

Hats off to teachers, students for anti-racism efforts

Over the past ten years or so, I've had occasion to address convocations of students and teachers in many of mainland Nova Scotia's education facilities. In each school visited, I've been given a good hearing and have enjoyed lively debates on my views about the historical relationships between the Mi'kmaq and European colonists. I have also found the open-minded and positive manner, in which my challenges to society's degrading and long-held stereotypical views about the Mi'kmaq and other First Nations to be most encouraging. Regrettably, due to the high cost of travel, I've had to decline several invitations to speak at Cape Breton Schools.

Individual educators must be given much of the credit for this enlightened movement to teach students to reject racist stereotyping. Many have taken it upon themselves, with money from their own resources, to acquire materials about the Mi'kmaq and other Native American civilizations for incorporation into their history and other social studies courses. The dedication these educators have shown towards trying to develop a more equitable society, by teaching children to acquire the knowledge that will enable them to overcome biases which degrade other cultures, is highly commendable and sets an excellent example for all to follow.

For those teachers who have gone the extra mile, I offer the highest accolades - they challenge the minds of students by diverging from staid textbooks to permit conflicting theories to enter the picture, and thus open the subject for analytical discussion and appreciation of cultural diversity. This is what teaching is all about!

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and offer thanks for the praise many teachers have offered for my work. It is very flattering to know that my books, in particular We Were Not the Savages, and newspaper columns are used by many educators for discussion and instructional purposes in their classrooms. To have one's labours appreciated and used constructively is, in my opinion, the highest tribute one can ever have. A humble thanks for your expressions of confidence!

As a footnote: I understand that the Nova Scotia Department of education is now making an effort to catch up with the progressive initiatives of teachers. Albeit government initiatives are several centuries overdue, itís better late than never! (In 2011, the Nova Scotia Government still has a long way to go.)

Now for the students. First, I wish to offer thanks for the kind manner in which most of you have welcomed me into your classrooms. I look around my rec-room, where I write my columns, and see many pieces of artwork, school mugs, etc., that were presented as tokens of appreciation for my participation in your school activities. In my lifetime, they will be prized!

Many people have asked if I have ever had to deal with racist incidents during my school visits. The answer is: rarely. However, one memorable incident was when a high school student stated that he didn't have any questions to ask, but wanted to make a comment, to which I consented. For my school trips, my attire usually is dress pants, sport jacket, shirt and necktie. His comment was related to my dress: "Mr. Paul, you don't look much like an Indian to me, you'er not dirty enough." The silence that ensued was deafening; then the comment was met with many groans and jeers. I burst out laughing and stated that his remark was too ludicrous to honour with a response. Incident closed.

It gives me a lot of pleasure to report that many non-native students are leaving behind the negative stereotypes created about natives by their ancestors. They are doing so by questioning and rejecting the often-debasing histories about natives that were written by individuals with racially slanted views.

And it gives me further pleasure to hear many say they have come to conclude that the majority of natives abided in civilizations that were ideal for human interactions. They make flattering comments and express admiration for societies where respect and honour for others was the base. The lack of greed and the lack of intolerance for the differences of others within these cultures also receives many accolades. This is quite a turnaround from the state that existed in my youth!

Racist outlooks and other forms of intolerance are not attitudes that a person is born with. They are taught! The differences being made today by teachers and students in trying to find ways to alleviate racial and other forms of intolerance in Nova Scotia will, I know, someday bear fruit.

The creation of a non-racist society, around the concept of equality and justice for all, is not an impossible dream; it is within our grasp. Letís hope that we have the will and common sense to find it. Hats off to our teachers and students for their conscientious involvement and unselfish efforts in this regard!

Daniel N. Paul


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