Mi'kmaq/Maliseet Nations News, May 2010 Issue

Membertou's conversion to the Roman Catholic Religion

By Mi'kmaq Elder Dr. Daniel N. Paul, C.M., O.N.S.

Something to celebrate?

I'll start by presenting a short comparison between the values of Mi'kmaq and European religions.

Pre European Mi'kmaq Religion: The Great Spirit's directives were the Mi'kmaq Nation's eternal light. The People believed that His dominion was all inclusive, and that He encompassed all positive attributes - love, honour, kindness, compassion, knowledge, wisdom etc., and that He was responsible for all existence, and was personified in all things - rivers, trees, spouses, children, friends etc. No initiatives were undertaken without first requesting His guidance. His creations, Mother Earth and the Universe, were accorded the highest respect. Religion was blended into daily life - it was lived. Nature, as was the case with most American civilizations, supported Mi'kmaq religious beliefs.

European Religions: Europeans followed religions collectively called Christianity, which are based upon blind belief. They too promote a belief in a Supreme Being who possesses all good qualities, but until recent times, they also promoted a belief that God condoned the use of several bad qualities, e.g., vengefulness to spread and protect the word. Horrendous events such as the Crusades and Inquisitions were initiated under the dogma of Christianity. Innocent people who could not defend themselves against charges of heresy were found guilty and thrown into prison or burned at the stake. Non-believers were branded pagans and heathen savages. The Mi'kmaq, as non-Christians, were also thus branded.

For reasons that can only be conjectured at this time, on June 24, 1610, Chief Membertou and his family converted to the Catholic Church. Why? The People already had a time tested religion that had served them well for untold centuries, it was not pagan, it called for the worship of a real God, not idols.

Before proceeding further, lets go back in time and visit for a few minutes the unstable security situation that the Indigenous Nations of the Americas were facing at that time. The invasion of the Americas by well armed European countries, which was caused by Christopher Columbus getting lost and accidently landing in the Carribean, was well under way by 1610. Several Nations had already been barbarically conquered and plundered. Many of the inhabitants of these Nations had been slaughtered, and a great many sold into slavery, etc. Overall, it was not a situation to breed confidence in the survival possibilities for any of the remaining Nations.

In addition, many of the invading European Christian countries, which were affiliated with different Christian persuasions, vehemently hated each other because of different beliefs. A difference that was the root cause of many wars between them - wars that promoted the invention of horrendous killing machines - which, in comparison, made the weaponry of the Nations of the Americas look like puny toothpicks.

Membertou in 1610, being an intelligent and honourable wise man, would have, because of the well established communication system between the Indigenous Nations, had knowledge of the terrible fate being suffered by the citizens of the conquered Indigenous American Nations further south. This would have compelled him to consider a method to assure the future survival of his People.

In this regard, he didn't have many options. At that time the World's two most powerful European countries, France and Great Britain, through the use of militarily force, were trying to gain control of North America. And, of course, one has to take into consideration, besides insatiable greed, religion was involved - one country was Catholic and the other Protestant.

I believe that one of the main factors that Membertou may have considered, when choosing to ally with the French, was that they were, although hell-bent and determined to convert the People to the Catholic Religion, not overly interested in wiping out Mi'kmaq culture. On the other hand, from day one the English wanted to eliminate, either though brutal means, or through assimilation, the culture. Interestingly, being the eventual victors, the English carried on this assiduous effort until Canada was confederated in 1867, at which time Canada took up the mantel and continued the effort to assimilate right up to the present time.

What did the Mi'kmaq inherit from Membertou's conversion? It eventually led to the establishment of Church controlled Indian Residential and Indian Day Schools, whose prime reason for existence was wiping out the remnants of our culture, and, very important, let's not forget the brutal abuse.

Personally, I think I'll pass on the celebration. To me Membertou's conversion to a foreign religion, whatever his reason, was just another nail in the coffin that eventually buried the Mi'kmaq Nation's independence, liberty, and freedom.

Maybe, in time, the federal and provincial governments will return to Canadian First Nations something that we can really celebrate; self-government, a status where we have control of our destinies. This can be achieved by, and by nothing less, dependent nation status within a nation, which is the status enjoyed by First Nations in the United States. What is now being proposed by many politicians, the status of glorified Canadian municipalities, is totally unacceptable!

Click to read about American Indian Genocide


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