HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ACT: 1962
In 1962, Premier Robert L. Stanfield formed a committee to study the problems faced by minority groups and improve race relations within the province of Nova Scotia. He had the good judgment to appoint Fred MacKinnon as the chairman of the committee. Mr. MacKinnon would prove to be a dedicated advocate for human and civil rights recognition throughout the province and served the People well during his career in several important civil service positions.
Although the Mi'kmaq were excluded, the committee was very helpful to African Nova Scotians, who were in many ways as bad off as we were. Because of discrimination their housing conditions were mostly deplorable, their education had been severely neglected, and other forms of oppression such as exclusion from jobs and the economy were still prevalent.
However, Premier Stanfield's failure to include the province's Mi'kmaq on the committee leaves a mark on his otherwise good record. He tried to justify the exclusion on the basis of federal-provincial jurisdiction at a human rights function in 1991. From my standpoint, as I believe other human rights advocates would agree, had he really believed in equal rights for all people in Nova Scotia he would not have let anything stand in the way of finding equality for all, the Mi'kmaq included.
Perhaps his decision would be more understandable if the Mi'kmaq had not been at the time almost as severely discriminated against as our ancestors were in previous decades. In the 1960s we needed all the help we could muster in our fight for freedom, justice and equality. While making his decision, Stanfield must have been aware that the era when First Nations peoples were pictured as either bloodthirsty barbarians or insensible idiots was still on the go. Cartoons which showed "Indians" with a vocabulary of just one word-"How"-generally accompanied with a grunt-"Ugh"-were still to be seen, and snide racist remarks were still the norm, not the exception!
Unfortunately, the decision made by Stanfield at that time set back the Mi'kmaq's fight for human and civil rights recognition in the province by several years. The establishment of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 1967 helped the situation somewhat. But it wasn't until 1991, under Premier Donald Cameron's Conservative government, that we were finally provided full protection under Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act.