March 1, 2002 Halifax Herald

Chief Lawrence Paul: Mi'kmaq innovator

SINCE 1994, when I started writing occasional columns about the achievements and exploits of outstanding Mi'kmaqs, there was one that I didn't relish the thought of doing - he is my brother, and people might think me a wee bit biased. But after he was named 2001 Newsmaker of the Year by the Truro Daily News, I decided, brother or not, I had to do it.

I'll kick off by quoting a from the Truro Daily News story of Jan. 6, 2002:

"New-found prosperity in the Millbrook (Mi'kmaq) First Nation has brought unheard-of attention to the small community of 1,200 people near Truro and a new appreciation of their chief of the past 17 years.

"Chief Lawrence Paul has come into his own as a leader and as a hard-nosed negotiator, the benefits of which can be seen in the prosperity of the band as it stands now, and the vision of the band for the future.

"A symbol of the prosperity and power of the small . . . (community) . . . could be seen early in January when Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault showed up to officially open the first stage of the Truro Power Centre . . ."

The article cites many of Lawrence's other lifetime achievements, finishing with a comment about how he settled the acrimonious fishing dispute between Millbrook and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans:

"When all was said and done, all interested parties returned to the table for negotiations. Although Paul will confront business and political leaders when he disagrees with them, he's not one to carry grudges over them. He knows he doesn't have to be friends with his peers in the business and political world. One day he might argue about an issue with his peers; the next day he might support them on another issue.

"For those reasons and many others, the Truro Daily News has designated Chief Lawrence Paul Newsmaker of the Year."

Lawrence was born July 23, 1934, in Saint John, N.B., the ninth of Mom and Dad's 14 children. Some of his fellow chiefs tease him about it by saying, "He was born in Maliseet territory," which makes him one of that nation. However, he was born on the north side of the river, which is in Mi'kmaq territory, so I can testify that his Mi'kmaq roots are genuine.

Elsie Basque, who taught Lawrence at Indian Brook, describes him at that time in these words: "He was a good little boy, inquisitive, well-mannered, ambitious and attentive." From experience, I can state that he was also a bad little boy who began to hone his now considerable skills at wheeling and dealing way back then, in particular for getting out of work. From the time we were able to handle chores, Mom assigned us tasks around the house; as the "much" younger brother, I often wound up doing his. This changed as I grew older and developed skills at evading traps set up by wheelers and dealers such as him.

Though we had a hard, poverty-stricken life, we did have fun growing up. I vaguely remember an occasion during the war when we were playing in the woods and heard an airplane coming, and decided to hide in case it was the enemy. Lawrence selected the weirdest location as his hiding place: the top of a tree. Of course, it was his tree that the plane flew over, almost touching it and causing it to sway. Looking back on it, we were sort of like the Beverly Hillbillies - without the money, of course.

Education: Although Lawrence attended courses ranging from bookkeeping to welding, and graduated with certificates from several, he is mostly a graduate of the University of Life. His biggest asset is that he is a very intelligent man who can see what he wants to accomplish, plot a course of action to do it, and then, in most instances, get it done.

Lawrence's life has not been without tribulations. At a very young age, he acquired an alcoholism demon that has hurt him greatly over the years. It sometimes got him into pickles where he had to use all of his smarts to escape.

Unknowingly, I was dragged into the midst of one of these, which, at the time, outraged me; but now, in retrospect, I laugh about. One morning, I received a call from a mutual friend who related that Lawrence, under the influence of alcohol, had got himself into a particularly bad situation and that I would probably see it in the morning paper. Sure enough, it was prominently featured on the front page of The Herald. However, the picture used to accompany the report of the incident was mine. The paper printed a front-page retraction the next day, but for a considerable time afterwards, I would catch people giving me a puzzled look.

In view of what Lawrence has accomplished in spite of his addiction, I've often wondered what he might have done had he not been hampered by it. I've concluded that he could have made a considerable mark in many fields, mainstream politics in particular.

Lawrence today lives in Millbrook with his third wife, Jane. He had four sons and two daughters by previous partners and is a grandfather and great-grandfather. Tragedy visited the family in March 2000: Shawn, the second youngest son, passed away in his 29th year. He is missed and fondly remembered. Career-wise: He is co-chairman of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs and sits on several other boards. In these capacities, he fights a good fight for all First Nation peoples on issues that affect us all.

On Feb. 20, members of the Millbrook Mi'kmaq First Nation Community expressed their continued confidence in Lawrence's leadership by returning him to office for the 10th time by a landslide. I take great pride in the individual accomplishments of members of the Mi'kmaq community; but in this case, because Lawrence is my brother, it's special. May the Great Spirit grant him good health for many more years and continued success in his endeavours.

Daniel N. Paul


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