March 7, 1997 Halifax Herald

Scots: alive and trying to retain their culture

Several readers have verbally rapped my knuckles because I didn't include the Gaelic culture in my Africville column (Jan. 10). They were right to do so. To set matters straight, there are five, not four, major cultures based in Nova Scotia. To all my Scottish friends, my heartfelt apologies for the omission!

In reflection, the only defense I can offer for the omission is this: Members of the Clans have been included in the political process of this province for the last century or so and thus, by association, they have become wrongfully identified in the minds of many as part of the Anglo culture. In contrast; members of the Afro, the Mi'kmaq and, to a lesser extent, the Acadian cultures have been mostly excluded from the political process, which has tended to magnify their differences from the Anglo.

Perhaps, when writing the piece, if I had given a little thought to my own ancestry, the oversight would not have occurred. You see, it is alleged that my family has a bit of the blood in it.

The story goes that in the mid-1800s, one Sir John A. MacDonald, during his travels with his nation-building efforts, had an affair with a Mi'kmaq lady. The lady in question was my maternal great-great grandmother.

She became pregnant from the encounter and later gave birth at the Tufts Cove Mi'kmaq settlement, Bedford Basin, to a son. He was christened Louis. Unable to care for the baby, my great-great grandmother gave him to the family who had cared for her during her pregnancy, the Noels. The Noels reared him as their own.

During the early part of the 20th century, Louis, told by his adoptive parents and other Mi'kmaq Elders that MacDonald was said to be his natural father, went to court and had his family's surname legally changed to MacDonald. In my younger days, this scenario was often repeated to me, with only slight variances, by now-departed Elders and relatives. To date, I've not taken the time to try to verify its authenticity, nor probably will I ever.

However, it can be said that my maternal grandfather, John Macdonald, as well as many of my Uncles and cousins, bore a striking resemblance to the founding father. In addition, my grandfather, like John A., had a reputation for being a womanizer and had more than a healthy fondness for the booze. It seems the first John may have had a hand in founding more than a country.

Historically, the Scots and the Mi'kmaq have had more than a few things in common. The similarities in the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of the English are many. For example, an attempt was made by the English to brainwash the citizens of both Nations into believing that they were the children of barbarian and Godless cultures. Both were subjected to genocide by their oppressors and were forbidden by them to speak their native tongues, wear their traditional dress, or practice their traditional customs. If one were to take the time, many other similarities could be catalogued.

However, there is one significant difference: Scotland is still identifiable and doesn't have a foreign majority. Therefore, the revival of its language and the strengthening and development of other aspects of its cultural heritage is possible in its traditional heartland.

My understanding of the present situation is this: Both major British political parties have stated that they will, after the next election, take the first steps towards establishing home-rule in Scotland by setting up a Parliament in Edinburgh. With the realization of this measure of self-rule, if its people approve, the Nation can then hope to regain its complete independence.

In the case of the Mi'kmaq, and other First Nations, the case is not so clear-cut. Although it is a historical fact that the large land mass which comprises Canada is the land which was stolen from the First Nations by the imperial European powers, there is no movement afoot by governments in this country to right this historical wrong by carving out of it, as was done in Palestine for the Israelis, countries for the First Nations Peoples. This is so even in the face of the fact that Canada is thousands of times larger than Palestine and thus has the land to easily do so.

Perhaps this might have something to do with the skin colour of the peoples involved. It might be, as was the case in the years of Cornwallis and Charles Lawrence, different standards for different skin colours. Then it was deportation for the white Acadians and death for the red Mi'kmaq. Today, its countries for displaced whites and none for displaced peoples of colour!

Now to more pleasant things. I thoroughly enjoy listening to the bagpipes and watching the Scots, fully attired in their traditional dress, participating in parades, highland games, etc. As for language, if it were left up to me, Gaelic and Mi'kmaq would be taught in schools where numbers warrant it. There is no gain for anyone to see the unique language and other precious values of a culture whither and die.

Therefore, I wish my Scottish friends much success in preserving their culture. Itís hard to imagine a world without a friendly people who have traditionally invited us, with a hundred thousand welcomes, to visit and enjoy delightful Gaelic shindigs!

Daniel N. Paul


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