October 1, 1999 Halifax Herald

Time to end 250 years of sorrow for Mi'kmaq

It was on this date 250 years ago, October 1, 1749, that Governor Edward Cornwallis met with his Council aboard HMS Beaufort, a British warship anchored in Chebucto Harbour, to set strategy to conduct their war with the Mi'kmaq Nation. Among those council members present were a future governor, Charles Lawrence (Acadian Expulsion), and Captain John Gorham (bounty hunter).

The plan adopted by the council was to mount an attempt to exterminate the Mi'kmaq. Thus, bounty hunters and anyone else interested in making extra money were offered £10 per Mi'kmaq scalp. The bounty was increased by council on June 21, 1750, to £50.

Period records indicate that the hunt was bountiful and that possibly thousands of Mi'kmaqs were killed before the bounty was revoked by Cornwallis on July 17, 1752. The fact that the Acadian community were so concerned about the safety of their part Mi'kmaq relatives, that they begged council on several occasions to protect them from the guns of bounty hunters, clearly shows how widespread scalping activities were.

The persecution unleashed against the Mi'kmaq by Cornwallis's racially motivated, inhuman policy has had remarkable staying power. It has persevered, albeit more sophisticated and far less physical, to this day.

Perhaps Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald's scornful words about Native sovereignty, uttered after the mass hangings of eight Cree Warriors at Fort Battleford on November 27, 1885, best articulates the country's determination to completely dispossess, degrade and impoverish Natives: "The executions ought to convince the red man the white man now governs."

To add insult to injury, all Crees from surrounding areas, probably to impress upon them the possible fate awaiting those who resisted giving up their lands for beads, were required to come to the Fort to witness the executions of their brethren. The full story of this travesty of justice can be had read in Indian Fall: The Last Great Days of the Plains Cree and the Blackfoot Confederacy, by D'Arcy Jenish.

Today, catastrophes eerily similar to those visited upon the Native Peoples of the Americas by colonial bigots are being visited upon populations deemed racially inferior by despots worldwide. From horrors such as the Serb attempt to subjugate the Kosovar Albanians, the treatment of the East Timorese by the Indonesians, and so on, one can easily conceptualize the post-Columbus horrors suffered by the Native Peoples of the Americas.

To its everlasting shame, Canada was involved in racially motivated, coerced removal of Natives from traditional homelands to government-designated sites even during the 1900s. For example, the federal government's relocation of the Mi'kmaq to two bureaucrat-selected Nova Scotia reserves, Eskasoni and Shubenacadie, took place during the 1940s.

The Mi'kmaq relocation was as brutal in many ways as the relocations of other ethnic groups around the World. In the Mi'kmaq instance, to expedite the move, many children were seized and held at the Shubenacadie Residential School until their parents agreed to move. In addition to the mental intimidation used to compel compliance, including the cut off of vital welfare, the use of physical force was given serious consideration. The only thing that prevented the government from using it was the large and growing minority among the white population who wouldn't have condoned it. Thank the Great Spirit for their presence!

Nova Scotia governments have not treated the Mi'kmaq any better than the feds have. The fact that the persecution and exclusion of the provincesís original inhabitants continues to the degree it they do today is not something to be proud of. Perhaps under John Hamm, a very decent man, the province will finally make a concerted effort to end them. His intervention is the only way that they will end, because legislation without commitment by politicians is worthless. The fact that no Nova Scotia government has ever used affirmative action to place a Mi'kmaq in a high provincial position speaks volumes about the lack of political commitment.

I can personally vouch for the truthfulness of this declaration about political commitment. On the two occasions when I made application for the position of Executive Director of the NS Human Rights Commission, although the Mi'kmaq are almost 100 percent excluded, affirmative action wasn't used.

This is the gist of my case: First and foremost, I have the essential qualifications for the position. Verification of this is the fact that the two job-search companies which the provincial government hired to conduct national searches for suitable candidates placed my name on their lists of qualified candidates for appointment - Vincent/Englehart for the opening in 1995-96 and KPMG in 1999.

In the case of the 1999 recruitment, then justice minister Robbie Harrison, although I was the only Mi'kmaq on the list of people recommended by KPMG for interviews for the position, initially did not shortlist me for an interview. I was added to the shortlist only after intervention by Premier to-be John Hamm, Lawrence Paul, Chair of the Nova Scotia Chiefs Association, and others.

It was an enlightened Tory Premier, Donald Cameron, who, in 1991, amended the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act to finally add protection for the rights of the Mi'kmaq. Premier Hamm, please continue his enlightened work, take the ultimate step - end the exclusion of the Mi'kmaq that Cornwallis's ungodly proclamation precipitated!

Daniel N. Paul


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