September 29, 2000 Halifax Herald
Shining a light on Mi'kmaq civilization
Shining a light on Mi'kmaq civilization
In 1987, I decided to undertake an effort to end society's snubbing of the socially progressive civilization created by my Mi'kmaq ancestors.
It’s an indefensible fact that up to that time, history books and other publications had practically ignored Mi'kmaq existence.
This was so in spite of the fact that the civilization had flourished for thousands of years in the Atlantic area of North America prior to European invasion. The progressive tenets of the culture were well recorded by many European scribes, as was their long, drawn-out war with the British. Yet, in spite of all this, in society's eyes, the People remained invisible.
To begin the process of righting this wrong I made myself readily accessible to the news media and became very active in many human rights activities, i.e., serving for five years as a Human Rights Commissioner with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. This pro-activeness led to reporters getting curious about the roots of our People. As a result, stories began to appear in publications and on t.v., slowly at first, then with more frequency, detailing some of our history.
To prod the process along, with the permission of my employers, the Chiefs of the Confederacy of Mainland Micmacs, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I founded and published a newspaper, Micmac/Maliseet Nations News, and wrote and had published a book entitled The Confrontation of Micmac and European Civilizations.
While these projects were in progress, in addition to managing CMM and several other associated companies, I began to write a comprehensive history about the Mi'kmaq, entitled We Were Not the Savages.
It was published October 1993 by Nimbus. Combined, I was devoting close to 120 hours a week to these related projects. It was the urgency of the cause that inspired me to maintain such a gruelling schedule.
In 1996, after concluding that the original manuscript was not conclusive and informative enough and was hard to read, I removed it from the market with the intent of someday publishing a revised and thus much stronger edition. However, in spite of its shortcomings, I'm proud of the fact that the book was the first comprehensive history about a North American First Nation ever written by a First Nation Author.
Not viewing the rewrite with any urgency I took four years to complete it. With the addition of reams of new material, the rewritten manuscript is virtually a new book. Publication date is Treaty Day, October 1, 2000.
What prompted me to push for publication at this time was that the need for such a book was starkly illustrated by recent incidents that highlight the lack of knowledge among the general public about First Nation cultures. A few of the most notable of these: the reaction to the Supreme Court's Marshall decision on fishing rights, a poll conducted by the provincial government in regards to the application of treaty and aboriginal rights, a book entitled First Nations Second Thoughts by Tom Flanagan. Responses:
First instance: Resulting from the Marshall decision, I've seen and heard statements that the Mi'kmaq were not involved in ocean fishing prior to the arrival of Europeans. This can be easily refuted by the fact that even the English recognized them as among the greatest sailors on Mother Earth.
Second: The provincial government poll asked many questions that were inappropriate. For instance, they asked non-First Nation Nova Scotians: should registered Indians residing off-reserve enjoy the same aboriginal rights benefits as those on-reserve? The fact that a Band Member is a full member no matter where he/she resides, and as such has the same rights, is what made the question redundant.
Third: Flanagan alleges that only peoples who were engaged in farming can be considered civilized. Then he states that farming did not exist in the Americas. If the raising of crops by the pre-Columbian Iroquois, Inca, Maya, etc., wasn't farming then what was it, coal mining?
Since taking up the challenge, I've worked hard trying to end the invisibility of the Mi'kmaq and other First Nation Peoples in Canada. This was not done for profit because engaging in such an activity tends to impoverish a person materially, which in my case has been substantial.
The fact that Indian Affairs and politicians, in spite of my considerable qualifications, haven't been knocking at my door seeking to use my knowledge illustrates the ostracism that one is subjected to when fighting for racial justice. Many are probably miffed because I didn't leave sleeping dogs lie and told the other side of the story.
In any event, the sole reason I've expended so much time and energy towards trying to make the Mi'kmaq visible was to raise the profile of a truly maligned people in the scale of Canadian society. The reward I desire from writing the new version, We Were Not the Savages: Twenty-First Century Edition, is to see it help create a society where ignorance about our culture is ended. Therefore, please consider, in particular if your about to make an uninformed degrading remark about First Nations Peoples, reading the book.
In response to recent allegations by former Alliance official John Mykytyshyn that Atlantic Canadians are lazy, and newspaper editorials from other parts of Canada supporting his view, Elsie Wayne, Tory MP for Saint John, responded by saying - “they don't seem to know what they're talking about.” Such is called being victimized by stereotyping, welcome to the club, Atlantic Canadians!
Daniel N. Paul