FRANK STANFIELD'S LETTER: 1948
The message delivered in Tolstoy's poem, previously cited under the History Highlight heading “CONDESCENDING FEDERAL RACE BASED PATERNALISM ,” also fits the story of the twentieth-century Mi'kmaq to a tee. It eloquently describes how governments and society can oppress a people while pretending to be compassionate.
The following speaks volumes about such pretensions. On April 29, 1948, Frank T. Stanfield, Member of Parliament for Colchester-Hants, and part of one of the country's foremost political families, wrote a letter to the Director of the Indian Affairs Branch about the living conditions of the Mi'kmaq residing at Indian Brook Reserve. It starkly demonstrates the depth of the condescending and paternalistic systemic racism the Mi'kmaq then had to deal with:
"Mr. R. A. Hoey, Director
Indian Affairs Branch
When I was home the last time in Truro I was in Shubenacadie. I did not see Mr. Rice but I saw a number of people around the village and they certainly thought the Indians were very prosperous and should not have much cause for complaint. Now that the roads are good I will get hold of Mr. Rice and go up and see the Chief on the Reserve and have a good talk with him.
I agree with you it was a good move in getting all the Indians possible gathered together on the Reserve at Shubenacadie on the mainland of Nova Scotia, as they were causing a lot of trouble scattered around in little groups all over the province. I also realize it is likely costing your department a lot of money. Something will have to be done to provide work for the male Indians and the female too, for that matter, as they will not be able to make a living at farming or cutting the little bit of wood they are allowed to take off the reserve. The trouble is the women go out and get what work they can but the men are lazy and will do nothing. Of course there are exceptions. A few of them have done very well for themselves.
Right now, as I see it, it is safe to say that the Indians out there are certainly not suffering from any hardships and are better off than they ever were in their lives before, but it is the old story that people are never satisfied. However, as I said above, something will have to be done to provide work for the Indians at Shubenacadie, sooner or later.
Frank T. Stanfield, M.P."
What is just as astonishing as the contents of Stanfield's letter is Hoey's response of May 3rd; the one individual who should have had an intimate knowledge of the situation expresses gratitude for being clued in:
"Dear Mr. Stanfield:
Please accept my sincere thanks for your letter of April 29th and for the information contained therein. It was to me gratifying to learn that conditions at Shubenacadie were reasonably satisfactory and that the Indians were in no sense suffering.
I should like to discuss with you any time at your convenience ways and means by which we might establish one or two industries on our Indian reserves at Shubenacadie and Eskasoni. I have in mind such industries as glove making, the production of axe handles, or even a small shoe factory. I feel confident that with your experience you would be able to give me valuable advice on the proposals I have in mind."
Stanfield's display of bigotry had to be based upon complete ignorance or cowboy-and-Indian stereotypes. Going to a White village and asking the White population about welfare complaints of Registered Indians, and then accepting their replies without question is ridiculous. It would be akin to a White investigator going into South Africa in the heyday of apartheid and asking Whites about the welfare complaints of its Black population. Most would have said that Black living conditions in that country were very good and echoed Stanfield's "it is the same old story that people are never satisfied."
In contrast to his contention that we were prosperous, I can attest to the truth about our welfare situation in 1948. In comparison with the appalling experiences of our ancestors under English colonial rule, and the hard times they experienced under Canadian rule up to that year, we were far better off than any Mi'kmaq had been in Nova Scotia since France threw our ancestors to the English in 1713. However, not much was needed to make our lives better, just a square meal or two a day.
It was wrong for a wealthy man to accept as truth second-hand information that painted an erroneous picture about the welfare of a poverty-stricken people from another culture, and then with no knowledge of the complexities of the situation, to pass a negative judgment on them and blame them for something they had no control over. If Stanfield's vision had not been so clouded by racial stereotypes, he would have gone into the Mi'kmaq community and found out for himself the true situation of the People and not relied upon two of the most unreliable sources for gathering information about First Nations people-the Department of Indian Affairs and the general public.
The unreliability of these two sources should have been apparent to knowledgeable Nova Scotia politicians. Only the most naive among them wouldn't have known that Indian Affairs was an institution that was used by political leaders to do whatever they wanted with Registered Indians: centralization, for example. Also, in view of the fact that these politicians came from the White population they would have known, witnessed by the fact that the vast majority of Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotians were undereducated and living in abject poverty amidst plenty, that racist beliefs among Whites didn't engender among them much sympathy for the legitimate complaints of either community. George Wallace, the late White supremacist and former Governor of Alabama, was not without peers in this province in the mid-1900s.
Debunking Stanfield's demeaning comments about the work habits of Mi'kmaq males compared to Mi'kmaq females is easy. The two main reasons why women were able to find work more readily than men in those days were that they were viewed by Whites as less threatening than men, and the White establishment badly needed maids, nannies and other domestics.
Because of the degrading way that society depicted the Mi'kmaq male as a mindless savage, when he did find employment off-Reserve it often wasn't a pleasant experience. I know because I've experienced it first-hand. On many occasions I was victimized by the false but widely held negative stereotype of the Native person as an unintelligent buffoon. It is very degrading to have a White person, who in some cases is barely able to tie his own shoelaces, treat you paternalistically as a person with the IQ of an idiot.
In addition to this kind of condescending treatment, during my years of employment in the public and private sectors, I was often referred to, pejoratively, as "Chief." In one incident, among many, a worker at a plant where I worked started screeching out his version of a supposed Indian war whoop in front of me while mimicking a war dance. An extremely thick skin and a cool head was required to hold a job in this kind of environment.