On June 13, 2011, I received an Honourary Diploma from Halifax’s Nova Scotia Community College Institute of Technology.
This is not the first time I’ve received something of value from this school; in early 1970, recognizing that I needed a high school Diploma to make career progress, I studied for and wrote my GED exams here, consequently acquiring a High School Diploma; an acquisition that has been a tremendous help in achieving my career and life goals.
Up until 1961 I worked at many trades and support positions, carpenter, laborer, harvester, factory worker, and many others that are far too numerous to mention here. When I got into management in 1961, I remembered well the vital importance of supporting people, and treating them with fairness and respect. Such fair treatment is a must to have a successful existence, treat other humans with the utmost tolerance and respect, and give them human dignity, and most will respond in kind.
I speak from experience. When I was born a Registered Indian in 1938 on Shubenacadie Indian Reserve I was not considered a Canadian British Subject, I was a Ward of the Crown. As Wards of the Crown we had no civil and human rights in this country. Examples, we were not permitted to vote in elections, we could be legally barred by law from public places such as pool rooms without cause, it was illegal for us to buy a case of beer, and so on, and most tellingly, we had very little recourse to law. In contractual arrangements, we had the same legal status as drunks and insane persons.
Federal Indian Agents had God-like powers over us; they controlled our lives from the cradle to the grave. And, most of them thought themselves to be our betters. This brings to mind an amusing story. I was a rebel against a racially intolerant system since I was very young and was not intimidated by Indian Agent authority. During a discussion with an Indian Agent in the late 1950s, I dared to disagree with him. He commented: “you’re not very respectful of your betters!” I left him flabbergasted with this response. “The reason that you perceive such is that you assume that I’ve met my betters, which I haven’t, and I won’t until the day I die and meet my Maker, then I will concede that I’ve met my betters!” He was not a happy camper.
We, and our ancestors, have been victimized by intolerance for centuries. Racism towards us, although not as blatant as it used to be, is still displayed openly in Nova Scotia. For instance in Cornwallis Park there is a statue of British Colonial Governor Edward Cornwallis, a man who decided in 1749 to try to exterminate the Mi’kmaq on Peninsula Nova Scotia.
It took a long time for Registered Indians to make some progress in acquiring a measure of civil and human rights in this country, attitudes are slowly changing, but we still have a long way to go.
However, happily, intolerance has been publically and forcefully addressed to some degree over the last few decades by some very notable people. Michael Levine, in Lessons at the Halfway Point: "If you don't personally get to know people from other racial, religious or cultural groups, it’s very easy to believe ugly things about them and make them frightening in your mind." Levine’s advice would, if followed around the world, reduce conflicts among humans significantly.
In conclusion, I encourage you to be tolerant and forgiving towards your human brothers and sisters. When you view your co-workers and others do not let race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, etc., demean him/her in your eyes, but see him/her as an equal, and always treat all fellow humans with dignity and respect. Your reward will be a happy and prosperous lifetime.