July 25, 1997 Halifax Herald

Mi'kmaq, Acadian relationship built on respect

For me, June 7, 1997, shall always be a day of fond memories. It was the day that University Sainte-Anne, the institution of higher learning that serves the Acadians of Nova Scotia, awarded me an honourary Doctorate in Letters and I became Dr. Paul!

They added spice to the day by giving me the honour and the pleasure of delivering the convocation address. I used the opportunity to review the Acadian/Mi'kmaq social relationship as it existed prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

The association was one of long duration. It started in the late 1500s with the arrival of French missionaries and fur-traders. These early contacts quickly grew into a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship which paved the way for French settlers to begin to establish themselves in Acadia in 1605 without opposition from the Mi'kmaq.

During this period, the two peoples established many social exchanges. Inter-marriage was quite common and each adapted to many of the customs of the other. French schools were established and Mi'kmaq children attended them on a daily basis alongside Acadian children.

Today, as a legacy of this relationship, the Acadian language contains Mi'kmaq words such as “matues” (mud-oo-wes), the Mi’kmaq word for porcupine. On their part, the Mi'kmaq adopted the Roman Catholic faith of the Acadians as their own.

Not surprisingly, the Acadian culture exhibits many of the excellent values that the Mi'kmaq hold near and dear - mutual respect for neighbours, democratic practices, welfare of the community before oneself, and a desire to be left in peace, to name a few.

In the Mi'kmaq community, before and, for a considerable time after, this period of closeness with the Acadians, maintaining the integrity of one's personal honour was the guiding principle upon which relationships with others were built.

This is probably why the Mi'kmaq stuck with the Acadians to the conclusion of the bitter events of the mid-1700s - three proclamations issued by English governors for Mi'kmaq scalps and the edict of1755 for the expulsion of the Acadians.)

The historical event which set the stage for the horrors that befell both peoples and spelled the end of the Acadian/Mi'kmaq alliance was the ratification in 1713 of the Treaty of Utrecht, which delivered most of Acadia into the hands of the English.

With the change, the fortunes of both peoples went, over a four-decade period, from good to extremely bad. In time, as a result of the restrictions placed upon them by the new masters, the very survival of the Acadian and Mi'kmaq cultures was severely challenged.

The underlying reason for this reversal of fortunes was the inability of the English gentry of the time to treat and co-exist with other races of people as equals, especially peoples of colour. This was exactly the opposite of what the French were able to do.

During their rule in Acadia, French authorities established an alliance with the Mi'kmaq which perplexed the English. This is because the English could not appreciate that the French approach to setting up colonies in the Americas did not ignore or exclude the Mi'kmaq and other First Nations peoples from the new order of things.

In plain words, the French included the Mi'kmaq and other First Nations in their councils and did not view them as inferior people who had to be subservient to the will of the whites in all matters. In later years, the English tried to adopt a similar approach, but they could never establish the same rapport with the First Nations that the French had.

During their early occupation of the land of the Mi'kmaq, the English were so paranoid about the cordial relationship between the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq that one British Governor, Richard Philipp, issued a proclamation, on August 1, 1722, making it illegal for Acadians to entertain a Mi'kmaq in any manner. Minutes of a meeting held three years later, on May 22, 1725, illustrates just how strictly the proclamation was enforced.

“The Honourable Lt. Governor, John Doucett, acquainted the board that Prudane Robichau, senior inhabitant in the Cape, had entertained an Indian in his house, contrary to His Excellency's proclamation, dated August 1, 1722.” That he had therefore “put him in irons and in prison amongst the Indians for [committing] such [a] heinous misdemeanour.”

This was to “terrify the other inhabitants from clandestine practices of betraying the English subjects into Indian hands.”

A petition by Robichau for release was then presented to Council for approval: “The said petition being read [and considered], it is the opinion of the board, upon account of his age, and having been so long in irons, that upon the offers and promises he made in his petition of putting up as security goods and other chattels for his future good behaviour, he be set free.”

The Indians referred to in Philipp's account were Mi'kmaq hostages who were being held at the fort by the British Army in order to try to terrorize the Mi'kmaq Nation into surrendering to English dominance. To my knowledge, the decree has never been rescinded, so a gathering between Acadians and Mi'kmaqs today, almost 175 years later, may still be technically illegal.

The existence of this document is another testament to a fact that is rarely acknowledged by modern Nova Scotia society: racial bigotry was rampant during the European colonial era and its legacy of hatred is still a negative factor inhibiting the progress of the Mi'kmaq today!

Daniel N. Paul


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