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September 14, 2001 Halifax Herald

Thomas H. Raddall's (novel), Roger Sudden, demonizes Mi'kmaq

The European practice of demonizing Native Americans can be traced back to shortly after their ancestors first began invading these shores. The resulting reams of scurrilous propaganda produced from these efforts depicts Natives to be among the most accomplished torturers and most efficient killing machines that ever existed. Consequently, one is left wondering how, in spite of being opposed by such able and ruthless enemies, the poor, "peaceful" European colonists ever managed to steal two continents.

The Mi'kmaq were not excepted. Imaginative tales have attributed to our ancestors the commission of inhuman crimes capable of chilling the stoutest spine. During colonial days, these lies, along with half-truths, were used as justification by authorities to issue proclamations for their scalps. Newborn, helpless infants were included. But perhaps we sell these newborns short; they may have collectively presented a stupendous fighting force that had to be extinguished because of the danger it posed for European settlers. Such could be the only viable justification that an apologist could use to excuse the undertaking of something so barbarously cruel by "civilized" English government officials.

In modern times, apparently never questioning the veracity of colonial-era propaganda, many authors have utilized demonizing titbits from it when penning their "historical" novels. Roger Sudden, by the late Thomas H. Raddall, touted to be a "stirring," "classic," "historical" novel set in 1749 - 1758 Nova Scotia, is an excellent example. In it, the Mi'kmaq are defamed, especially District Chief Jean Baptiste Cope, beyond redemption.

The novel's storyline depicts the Mi'kmaq to be a dirty, beastly, stupid, ugly people, almost barren of human compassion, eaters of dogs, aggressors, etc. It states that it was their custom to take the head when they killed an enemy. The overall conclusion that an uninformed reader would draw is that they were a terrifying, blood thirsty, head-hunting People with barely a smidgen of civility.

In the case of Cope, it portrays him as a truly evil, arrogant man. It is asserted that, in time, he unilaterally declared himself Chief of the Mi'kmaq. Then, topping other untruths, this horrific description is given of him as he enters into an imaginary physical, life-or-death struggle with Roger Sudden: "Koap bounded forward, sweat-shining, paint-smeared, a nightmare figure, weird as the Micmac notion of death itself." The struggle ends when Roger renders him unconscious. He is then removed, comatose, to the family wigwam by Wapke, a fictitious wife whom he has beaten and abused constantly. Soon afterwards, she kills him by driving an English Bayonet through his skull.

The dialogue when this was discovered: "My daughter,’ says Pere Maillard gently, ‘what is this thing?’ Wapke's mouth parted the black mask (she had painted her face in). Hoarsely, but with pride, she said to him, ‘Bless me, Paduleas, for I have slain him as the woman slew the warrior in the God-book. He was evil. It was time for him to die.’" Unfortunately, these appalling, false descriptions by Raddall have been embraced by many as the truth - feeding systemic racism. Therefore, novels such as Roger Sudden, because they cause grievous harm to a people, are hate material at its worst.

The truth of the civility of the Mi'kmaq is opposite to what's claimed in the novel. Although some Mi'kmaq warriors indulged in committing atrocities, the Mi'kmaq Nation never sanctioned them. In fact, one can find many recorded instances where English women and children were delivered out of harms way by the warriors, even men.

Nor was Jean Battiste Cope an evil man. He signed a treaty with the English in 1752 that included a provision which mandated that he do his utmost to convince other Chiefs to sign similar treaties. Not an act of a man who viewed himself as all powerful.

The report of how he died is also pure fiction. Born and baptised in 1698, Cope would have been 60 years old by 1758, the year when it’s alleged he engaged in a life-or-death struggle with a white man. An ancient age for any person in those days, and not one that would ordinarily permit a man to engage voluntarily in a physical-strength struggle. The truth is that he was a family man who, as far as I can determine, died of old age sometime in the 1770s.

As an excellent example of how propaganda stigmatises innocent people, Roger Sudden should not be banned because it can be used as an effective tool to fight racism. However, all newly produced copies and existing copies in libraries, schools, bookstores, etc., must be properly labelled as fictitious, racially demonizing material. If left as is, its concocted allegations will continue to erode the reputation of an already falsely maligned people. Not a defensible prospect.

Being a civilized province, Nova Scotia is morally bound to identify all racially harmful, fallacious "historic" material available to the public within its jurisdiction and require that it be labelled accordingly. Not to do so in an expeditious manner, belies the province's claim that it is a promoter of racial justice.

Daniel N. Paul

Click to read about the American Indian Genocide that such dehumanizing propaganda has begot.

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