October 16, 1998 Halifax Herald

Chief Stanley Johnson: he made a difference

The late Stanley Gordon Johnson, who died this summer, was born August 17, 1944, on Millbrook Indian Reserve to the late Andrew and Mary (Sylliboy) Johnson. He was the oldest son in a family six girls and four boys.

After completing grade 10 in 1961, Stan acquired a machinist designation in 1962 from New Glasgow's Junior Technical Institute; then he completed high school at St. Joseph College, College Bridge, NB. He went on to Saint Mary's University, graduating in 1969 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He thus joined a very small group of Mi'kmaqs who had managed to obtain degrees in spite of racial obstacles.

On July 22, 1967, Stan married a lady from his band who was a graduate of Mount Saint Vincent Academy, Jane Julian. The union produced four girls and two boys. The children inherited from their parents appreciation for a good education: Three have university degrees, one is in a diploma program, and the two youngest are in the process of completing high school.

From 1969 to 197,1 Stan was employed by the Department of Indian Affairs in various positions. He went on to become secretary-treasurer of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians (1971-73). From 1973 and 1975, he was Millbrook's economic development co-ordinator and president of the Abenaki Motor Inn. From 1975 to 1982, he held various positions with First Nation's organizations: many at the same time: Vice President/Executive Director Union of Nova Scotia Indians, Chief of Millbrook Band for two terms, President of Union of Nova Scotia Indians, Assembly of First Nations Regional Vice Chief. From 1982 to 1984, he was Union Of Nova Scotia Indians's Community Health Co-ordinator, after which he became self-employed.

The nature of Stan's self-employment led to taxation conflict with federal and provincial governments. The stage for battle was set by the provisions of the Indian Act which state that Registered Indians, under certain conditions, are exempt from taxes. Stan contended that these exemptions, combined with the provisions of mid-18th century treaties between Great Britain and the Mi'kmaq, gave Mi'kmaq merchants full tax exemption. The legal battles centered around the sale of cigarettes, dubbed "butt-legging" by the media.

For his belief in the rightness of his cause, Stan did a few years in jail, paid huge fines, and spent at least $2 million for legal representation. Lawyers must have viewed him as either a patron Saint or a gold mine. Whatever one's opinion of Stan's tax battles, his tenacity in defending and promoting his position has to be admired.

Stan won a few battles but, overall, couldn't compete - the Feds and Nova Scotia. Governments have a formidable advantage over citizens in litigating against them - unlimited access to the public purse. However, despite all the court cases and legislative actions taken by governments, the issue is still largely unresolved. Treaty negotiations will probably be the vehicle that will bring about a final resolution.

The province, in its zeal to convict Stan, resorted on several occasion to harassment. One disgraceful incident still sticks in my craw. Officials picked up Stan's wife and held her in jail for several hours on suspicion of attempting to defraud. There was no evidence to indicate that Jane was ever involved in Stan's cigarette business. Jane's main interest in life is, was, and probably always will be her family's welfare. And, emphatically, Stan would not have, under any circumstances, put her in a position where she would have been subject to criminal charges. Upon releasing her from custody, the police apologised.

Stan loved a good laugh, and a story about him without a laugh included would not be complete. The one I'll tell involves his terrible driving and the fact that Lady Luck protected him.

Several years ago, my wife and I ran into Stan at a function. He recited the details of an accident that he had had a few days before while driving to Sydney - details that would be deemed incredible by any who didn't know his driving.

He had dozed off at the wheel, causing the car's tires to hit the soft shoulder sending it out of control. He awoke to find that he was headed directly for a power pole. Without thought, he jumped into the back seat and huddled on the floor. After a few moments passed without a crash, he looked over the seat and found that the car had missed the pole. He quickly returned to the driver's seat, drove back onto the highway and continued on to Sydney. Familiar with his poor driving, I never doubted the truth of this tale.

Stan was a generous man who gave much to the Mi'kmaq community and readily supported individuals when asked. Several years ago, I had applied for a superintendent's job with Indian Affairs. Shortly before the interviews, a top departmental official informed me, off the record, that some of his colleagues had decided that I shouldn't get the job. I tracked Stan down in Vancouver - he was then president of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians - and told him that without his presence on the selection board the next day, I wouldn't get the job. He agreed to come immediately to Halifax. Because he was on the board - albeit, groggy-eyed from a long overnight flight - I got the job.

Husband, father, son, brother, friend: Stan lived all these roles with zest. In his lifetime, he made a difference. May his eternity with the Great Spirit be filled with peace and tranquillity!

Daniel N. Paul


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