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MI'KMAQ EDUCATION CHANGES
UNDER FRENCH OCCUPATION

The Treaty of Paris, signed by the British and French on February 10, 1763, transferred Cape Breton and Quebec to British rule, and restricted the French to the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Thus, ended France’s involvement in what is today Canada. The signing also officially ended a mutually beneficial 158-year-old relationship between the French and the Mi'kmaq.

That the relationship lasted so long is a tribute to French enlightenment. From the time they arrived on our shores they, instead of trying to debase and beat them into submission as the English would, treated the Mi'kmaq as human beings and undertook programs to help them acquire the skills they needed to accommodate themselves to the foreign economy being imposed. With this help they probably would have gradually created a technologically advanced civilization. This prediction is based on the premise that the French were actively promoting this vision as a future for the Mi'kmaq, until 1713, when the English took over.

To achieve this vision, shortly after planting their colonies in Nova Scotia, the French focused on providing education opportunities for individual Mi'kmaq. It got under way in 1634, when Cardinal Richelieu sent members of the Capuchin order to New France to engage in missionary work and to set up schools to teach both French and Mi'kmaq children.

By 1635, the Capuchins had opened a college at Port-Royal, probably the first such institution opened by the French in the Americas. It had in attendance about thirty Acadian children and several Mi'kmaq as boarders, and other Mi'kmaq children attended the school on a daily basis. The French also encouraged any Mi'kmaq who aspired to a higher education to travel to France to attend university. While there, they enjoyed all the rights and privileges of French citizenship. The mission school functioned until 1654, at which time the English took over the fort for a short while and closed it.

In contrast, by 1763, after ruling the province for fifty years, the English had made no attempt to offer even the bare rudiments of education to the Mi'kmaq.

The Treaty of Paris altered the lifestyles of most indigenous people in the Maritimes, but, the most adversely affected by it was the Cape Breton Mi'kmaq. Under French rule, they had enjoyed freedom from persecution and had been able to practice their culture unmolested. Their experience with the French, compared to the brutality experienced by the mainland Mi'kmaq under English rule, was like the difference between day and night.

Although governed by a different British colonial administration, the situation for the Cape Breton Mi'kmaq slowly became more similar to what the mainland Mi'kmaq were being forced to endure. However, because of their relative isolation, they were still better situated to continue practising their culture than most mainlanders.

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