June 9, 2004, The Halifax Herald Limited

Mi'kmaq, Acadians: friends then and now

FROM TIME immemorial, the pre-Columbian Mi'kmaq welcomed and entertained peaceful visitors from other Turtle Island (our name for North America) First Nations to our country with open arms. Such hospitality was the result of elders implanting in the minds of succeeding generations of young children the worthy social values of a people-friendly civilization.

Assuring that those values were strictly followed was personal honour, an individual's most valued personal asset. To fail to keep one's word, or to be disrespectful of others, etc., was punishable by being ostracized by peers - a fate considered worse than death.

High among the values taught, and probably the one that was most conducive to assuring that such hospitable welcomes continued, was the one which acknowledged that the Great Spirit created all people equal - it prevented the development in young minds of biases against people who were different. Because of it, intolerance was not a vice harboured in the hearts of that era's Mi'kmaq.

Thus, 400 years ago, when Champlain and settlers arrived on Mi'kmaq shores in 1604, they were warmly welcomed by the Mi'kmaq; and later that year, by the Passamaquoddy, when they wintered at the place now called St. Croix, Me. However, it was the Mi'kmaq with whom they made first contact, and it was the Mi'kmaq with whom they had the most contact in future years.

History relates that the relationship was very warm. From almost the onset, much social contact took place - intermarriages were many. Such marriages even reached into French leadership; for instance, French governor Charles de La Tour was married to a Mi'kmaq woman. Related to the before-mentioned, many Acadians today claim that the vast majority of their people have Mi'kmaq or other First Nation blood in them. It was a relationship that today's society could accomplish much from emulating!

The prime reason that such a good relationship developed was very simple: French settlers respected Mi'kmaq rights and did not try to dispossess them. In fact, in sharp contrast to the later actions of the colonial British, they requested permission to use Mi'kmaq land.

Thus, propelled by mutual respect, the Mi'kmaq/French alliance lasted for more than 150 years - an unmatched record between a First Nation People and Europeans in the Americas. During this period, 1505-1760, the language of each became the second language of the other. The Acadian language today contains many Mi'kmaq words.

However, an event occurred in 1713 that assured that within 50 years, the relationship would be almost discontinued for several centuries: The English claimed our land by the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht. From that point onward, without exception, they persecuted both peoples equally.

In fact, they were so paranoid about the Acadian/Mi'kmaq relationship that they issued a proclamation in 1722 making it illegal for an Acadian to entertain a Mi'kmaq in any way. It was strictly enforced. The minutes of a May 22, 1725, British colonial council meeting at Annapolis Royal relates just how harshly it was done:

"The Honourable Lt. Governor, John Doucett, acquainted the board that Prudane Robichau, senior inhabitant in the Cape, had entertained an Indian in his house, contrary to His Excellency's proclamation, dated August 1, 1722. That he had therefore put him in irons and in prison amongst the Indians for such heinous misdemeanour. This was to terrify the other inhabitants from clandestine practices of betraying the English subjects into Indian hands. A petition by Robichau for release was then presented to Council for approval: The said petition being read. It is the opinion of the board, upon account of his age, and having been so long in irons, that upon the offers and promises he made in his petition of putting up as security goods and other chattels for his future good behaviour, he be set free."

During the wars of self-defence that the Mi'kmaq often engaged in with the British, many young Acadian men joined with the warriors to do battle. In fact, the bounties issued by the British for Mi'kmaq scalps were worded in such a way that it was permissible, if Acadians were found to be helping the Mi'kmaq, for bounty hunters to take Acadian scalps. The record shows that this was actually done.

In retrospect, seeing as our ancestors saw fit to welcome them with open arms, how can we say today that the ancestors of the Acadians were not welcomed to our land and accepted? They were, and they interacted very civilly. Therefore, we must continue the welcome.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the arrival of many other Europeans; some were bloodthirsty. For instance, it would be akin to Jews celebrating Hitler for the Mi'kmaq and other First Nation peoples to celebrate the arrival dates of such individuals as Christopher Columbus and Edward Cornwallis. The genocide they begot mark them as true savages. There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever between their conduct and that of the Acadians!

Thus, this summer, I'll be helping the Acadians commemorate the arrival of their ancestors on our shores; in August, I'll be giving a talk at Grand Pré.

The Acadian celebration, to me, is a celebration of survival in the face of overwhelming odds - something, from experience, the Mi'kmaq can relate to. Therefore, I hope that all Mi'kmaq will join with me in wishing them well. May their visiting friends and relatives have a pleasant and memorable stay!

Daniel N. Paul


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