Febuary 6, 1998 Halifax Herald

Historians should take unbiased look at past

The letters to editors, newspaper columns, editorials and news articles, as well as radio and television news stories which resulted from my January 16th column, "Time to stop honouring monsters from the past," strongly indicate that Nova Scotians are interested in learning about their real history. Here is a challenge to historians in this province: fulfil the need!

But do so by taking off your rose-coloured glasses and have an unbiased look at the colonial British performance in North America, in particular Nova Scotia. Do it by refraining from believing the stereotype that the Mi’kmaq were savages. Then take into consideration that the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq were caught in a no-win situation between the greedy manipulations of two heartless empires, British and French.

Then examine this excerpt from a 1720 statement made by the colonial council to the Acadians at Minas: “...as the Indians, (seldom) if ever commit depredations...” This statement, made seven years after the British had officially taken over the province in 1713, belies the heathen savage picture painted of the Mi’kmaq. Also belying the savage picture is the fact that the white Acadians had lived side by side in peace with the Mi'kmaq for almost 120 years. The English took over the province in 1713, and within a few years were at war with the same Mi'kmaq.

Also consider the following when establishing in your mind how the acrimonious Mi'kmaq/English relationship transpired: In 1715 English, officers met with the Mi'kmaq chiefs and demanded that they recognize the king of England as their king, and as the owner of the province. The Mi'kmaq refused their insulting demand, and hostilities began to break out. It was around this time that the English decided to try to terrorize them into submission.

In 1722, the English began to take Mi'kmaqs - men, women and children - into their forts to be held as hostages. The Mi'kmaq, naturally, objected to this and made an effort to free their kinsfolk. During the ensuing battles, several British soldiers were killed. On July 8, 1724, the council met at Annapolis and decided to hang one of the hostages as reprisal. A young Chief, who was guilty of nothing, was unceremoniously hanged.

Even with this provocation the Mi'kmaq Nation did not authorize attacks upon civilians. A treaty was signed in 1726, which brought only a temporary halt to hostilities between the two parties. Then came 1744, and the events related in my last column. There wasn't room in that column to mention these very pertinent things: John Gorham was part of the council which approved Cornwallis's scalping proclamation of 1749. He was also part of the Council which upped the Mi'kmaq scalp bounty from ten pounds to 50 pounds on June 21, 1750.

Another thing not mentioned was that Joseph Gorham was the opposite of his brother John. He was a soldier, and probably killed some Mi'kmaqs in man-to-man battle, but was not part of the organized drive to exterminate them. He, after the war, became a friend. Name something after him - I don't object!

As for who perpetuated many of the atrocities committed in this province against British subjects by "Indians" closely examine the actions of the so-called "friendly Indians" who were brought here from other North America locations by the English. My understanding is that they sometimes proved so friendly towards the English that they occasionally gave them haircuts by removing their scalps. I do acknowledge that some of the Mi'kmaq, who were in the employ of the French or under the influence of alcohol supplied by whites, did commit some atrocities.

The French at Louisbourg also issued proclamations for the scalps of English soldiers. However, history indicates that when the Mi'kmaq took a English fort they mostly delivered their prisoners to Louisbourg alive and collected for live soldiers.

Then look at and comment on why the Mi'kmaq and other Natives got on so well with the French. Try absorbing what Cornelius J. Jaenen had to say on the subject: "the image of the French as having afforded them a measure of economic security, while permitting and encouraging them to continue in their ancestral way of life, persisted (after English control was established).”

Here is the situation as it existed in this province in the middle 1740s and 50s: The English had issued scalping proclamations, which were later approved by London, with the intent of exterminating the Mi'kmaq. The French had established bounties for English soldiers. The Mi'kmaq Nation had not, in spite of gross provocations, declared war upon English civilians; women and children were almost always released by them, unharmed. Examine how badly the Mi'kmaq were treated after hostilities ended.

It has often been piously claimed that Europeans were on a "civilizing" mission when they came to the Americas. In view of the fact that it has been reliably estimated that from 70 to 100 million Native Americans died in the process, and their survivors have suffered hellish horrors, honestly answer this question; who were the barbarians?

Daniel N. Paul


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