Joshua Brisson (Student Volunteer) and Zachary Goncalves (CRRF Student Volunteer)
(Moderator) Nancy MacDonald: Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Dalhousie University
Mi'kmaq Elder, (Dr.) Daniel N. Paul, C.M., O.N.S.: Historian, Educator and Author
Jaime Battiste: Mi'kmaq Citizen Officer, Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative
Jaime Battiste: "Understanding our History, Culture, and Moving Away from the Indian Act"
This presentation focused on the Mi'kmaq First Nation's group, and their unique relationship with the Indian Act. The Mi'kmaq people are native to the Canadian Atlantic provinces as well as the Northeastern United States of America (Atlantic provinces, Quebec, and New England) and they possess a rich culture that long pre-dated the arrival of European settlers in the Americas. The Mi'kmaq historically divided themselves into 7 districts, with 7 chiefs administrating each respective district. A Grand Council of the 7 chiefs and districts united the Mi'kmaq as a nation and government. However, the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century greatly altered the course of history and culture for the Mi'kmaq. The history of the Mi'kmaq people may be divided into four epochs;
An overview of First Nations culture focuses on an understanding First Nations history and culture, and moving away from the Indian Act. As the Mi'kmaq Grand Council says: "It is only by taking the journey back that one can really get a balanced understanding of what is happening now and where things are going."
The first notable European settlers to come into contact with the Mi'kmaq were the French colonists. Treaty Diplomacy had its origins in trade, friendship, mutual respect and cooperation.
The Treaty Diplomacy Era spanned the years 1630 to 1796. Mi'kmaq legends state the arrival of the Europeans was not a surprise. The first documented settlement in Mi'kma'ki was a horrible failure with the majority of French not making it through winter. Grand Chief Membertou took the French under his wing and taught them how to survive in the harsh winter. In 1610 Grand Chief agreed to be baptized as a symbolic agreement with the Holy See. In doing so however, he did not abandon Mi'kmaq spirituality. The Mi'kmaq early relationship with the French was one of mutual respect and cooperation. Continuous wars between the French and British created tension in Mi'kma'ki and Maliseet. In 1725 Wabanaki Confederacy signed a treaty in Boston with the British Crown.
A number of cooperative treaties would be signed in what Battiste describes as the Treaty signing era (1630-1796). However, this relationship would soon deteriorate as ongoing conflicts between the French and the British raised tensions that would prove to be detrimental to the welfare of the Mi'kmaq people.
Arrival of General Cornwallis
1749 General Edward Cornwallis arrived in Halifax, area because of winds not allowing his arrival in Port Royale. To this day there is controversy about Cornwallis being the 'founder' of Halifax. First Nations People have denounced this claim. Cornwallis practiced an extirpation policy in his dealings with the First Nations Peoples. By coming to Halifax the treaty agreements with the Mi'kmaq were broken. The Mi'kmaq confronted the British for taking more space and resources than was agreed upon in the treaties. The 1749 "Mi'kmaq Declaration of War" ensued and the Mi'kmaq notice was taken as an offence by the British and a bounty was put on the Mi'kmaq.
In 1751 Lord of Trade Intervene in the Mi'kmaq Conflict and the British seek aid from the Wapanaki Confederacy in seeking peace with the Mi'kmaq. In 1752 the Lapatkotikemk discussion on whether to choose war or peace was undertaken and the first treaty is signed between the British & Mi'kmaq.
Treaty Denial Era (1776 -1969)
Mi'kmaq treaties were ratified at different times by different districts (no hierarchal structure). These treaties guided the Mi'kmaq people, however the British ruled that they were not valid and denied their agreements.
In 1776 the war between the British and United states ended. Those who had been loyal to Britain were removed from New England and 35,000 Loyalists came to the Maritime provinces in Canada. These Loyalists ignored treaties previously signed with Mi'kmaq, and the crown was powerless to stop the lawlessness and encroachment of Mi'kmaq lands. It was the first time that the Mi'kmaq was outnumbered in their own territories and in 1848 the Mi'kmaq Grand Council sent a petition to the Government of Nova Scotia. A report stated that there was not a jury in the land who would side with the Mi'kmaq or a lawyer who would represent the Mi'kmaq because it would damage his future earnings.
This new era represents what Battiste describes as the "Era of Treaty Denial (1776- 1969). The Mi'kmaq gradually saw the eradication of their rights, the loss of their land, culture, and were powerless to defend themselves. Lawyers and juries would not risk their careers in order to fight for justice on the side of the Mi'kmaq. The government even denied the existence of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council. This era led to cultural genocide, with residential schools being a key apparatus in the systematic eradication of the Mi'kmaq nation.
In 1929 Grand Chief Sylliboy went to trial for trapping out of season. A one-sided court favored with the crown, stating that there was never a treaty, and that the Mi'kmaq Grand Council did not exist. The resulting damage that was created led to:
The 1969 White Paper led to a movement of "Indian Activism" and the creation of Provincial and Regional Tribal Councils such as the Union of Nova Scotia Indians (UNSI), Union of New Brunswick Indians (UNBI) and National Indian Brotherhood.
The white paper stated that removing the unique legal status established by the Indian Act would "enable the Indian people to be free—free to develop Indian cultures in an environment of legal, social and economic equality with other Canadians."
To this end, the white paper proposed to
Overview of Mi'kmaq Litigation
Litigation is expensive. There is current push for negotiations with the government to avoid the time and capital that is used in litigation processes.
Challenges and Current Problems
Aboriginal Peoples still face many challenges as outlined by Wilton Littlechild in an address to the by United Nations. Some serious questions need to be answered about why indigenous tribes continue to lead in all the negative statistics? Families continue to face high levels of poverty and the education of indigenous students is in a crisis. Exclusion from the economic mainstream is still an issue and treaties continue to be violated.
The Indian Act
The Indian Act was created to control the lives of Indians who lived on reserve. Prior to 1951, if an Indian wanted to become a lawyer, doctor, and university student they would lose their status as Indian. The Indian Act banned many cultural events, or political gatherings or even hiring lawyers to pursue claims. Also, The Act controlled nearly every part of the Indians' lives e.g. leaving the reserve. Overall, it discriminates against all Indians and especially against women who would also lose their status if they married a non-Indian man.
Identity: Who are the beneficiaries? Who is Mi'kmaq?
Aboriginal people defined as:
Indian status, currently allows certain Mi'kmaq rights that limit Taxation, ensure some health costs, allows you to be eligible for housing and education. Discrimination remains in Indian Status and Band Membership in many communities. Studies show that within two generations there will be next to no registered Indians left in Canada. Some vital questions that need to be answered are: If Mi'kmaq/Maliseet were to receive compensation for payments for resources; who does that include and who determines who has status S. 6(1) & s 6(2) issues and how do we decide who is Mi'kmaq - through, Language, Blood Quantum, Skin Color, etc.?
Many people apply for status. With rights come responsibility to the community and those that have no responsibility to the community with which they claim to identify, h should not have the right.
Governance and Nationhood
There are over 630 bands across Canada, over 40 different Nations. Royal Commission on aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) is the most comprehensive document ever researched. It recommends dissolving the band structure in favor of Nations. One of the ironies of present day Treaty Negotiations is that they are between Canada, Nova Scotia, and Indian Act Chiefs. Original Treaties were signed between the British Crown and Mi'kmaq Grand Council. How do Mi'kmaq or Maliseet go back to Nationhood and can the Indian Act Bands work together or will the old divide and conquer win out? The ccolonial government structure is imposed on the Mi'kmaq governing structure. This results in community division. It is necessary for the Mi'kmaq people to come up with their own governing structure based their own cultural beliefs and values which could lead to self-determination – and is this possible? It is necessary to ensure that Treaty Implementation falls within the in the Justice system.
Einstein's quote: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".
(Dr.) Daniel N. Paul: Systematic Racism- Invisible History
History of Indigenous Peoples'
The First Nations narrative is not accounted for in history. Their history is told by and from a Eurocentric perspective. The common discourse is that Europeans discovered North America and that the "new world" was vacant land ready for population and exploitation. The true story is that there was a vibrant Mi'kmaq civilization before Colonization and more importantly that Columbus discovered two continents that were populated by vibrant civilizations.
Daniel Paul's presentation concerns the invisible history of systematic discrimination against the Indigenous populations of the Americas. He states that what has occurred is nothing less than a thorough and utterly complete genocide of approximately 100 million Native American's stretching from the Canadian Arctic, all the way down to the southern tip of the Americas at the bottom of what is now the country of Argentina. In between, many Indigenous tribes and nations have been destroyed; from the Mi'kmaq to the Apache, the Iroquois to the Cree, the Inca to the Maya, the Aztec and many more. This genocide has been swept under the rug, as history as they say tends to be written by the winners. The winners in this sense were European powers such as Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal who colonized large parts of the America's which resulted in the eradication of Native culture and their populations.
Displacement and Genocide of Native Americans
Daniel Paul recounts several of the atrocities committed in the Americas against the Native populations. The displacement and genocide of Native American's in the United States and Canada is discussed at length, and other cases such as the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs of Mexico is also highlighted as blatant acts of barbarism and genocide. Daniel Paul states that it is ridiculous how North American society continues to glorify men such as Christopher Columbus and Edward Cornwallis, as they were very much a part of the system of genocide against Native Americans.
The Invisible History of the Mi'kmaq continues
The Indigenous population fought back to preserve their territory, sovereignty and lives. Europeans were depicted as heroes and the aboriginals were depicted as villains. Later Nova Scotia's Honourable Joseph Howe made this comment justifying the action the Indigenous population took to preserve their freedom:
"The Indians (Mi'kmaq) who fought your forefathers were open enemies, and had good reason for what they did. They were fighting for their country, which they loved, as we have loved it in these latter years. It was a wilderness. There was perhaps not a square mile of cultivation, or a road or a bridge anywhere. But it was their home, and what God in His bounty had given them they defended like brave and true men. They fought the old pioneers of our civilization for a hundred and thirty years, and during all that time they were true to each other and to their country, wilderness though it was...."
There is a refusal to teach the true histories of Aboriginal Peoples'. It would reveal ugly truths about colonization and Canada's history. There is a lack of historical accounts in literature from the perspective of the Aboriginal Peoples'. Newspaper columnists and media continue to cover stories about First Nations issues and act like they are experts in a field they know little about like "Indian" affairs and finances. There is a need for a counter-hegemonic narrative and for the Mi'kmaq to tell their own history.
Daniel Paul takes particular issue with education systems across the Americas and calls for sweeping reforms. The school systems continue to reflect a euro-centric perspective, and glorify European colonists while giving little importance to the human rights abuses and genocide committed against Native American's. Daniel Paul believes that reforming this archaic system would go a long way towards teaching future generations about the real history of the America's and the significance of Native American culture which was highly advanced in astronomy, culture, art, mathematics, but have been largely forgotten thanks to the genocide committed by the colonizing European powers.
Racism dehumanized First Nations
Racism had a dehumanization impact on First Nations peoples. The only way that one could consider the "new world" vacant and needing to be populated, is if the First Nations people are removed from their existence in these areas. The First Nations were considered less than human by the Colonizing powers and labeled as "savages" and 'barbarians".
Who were the barbarians?
Although the Aboriginal people were considered barbarians the "European invaders" used tactics with the goal of destruction, depopulation and ultimately the genocide of the Indigenous population. These acts were justified via the discourse that the indigenous population are primitive and therefore less than human.
Nancy MacDonald: History of Adoption & Custom Adoption
The Mi'kmaq has a unique custom in regards to child adoption that the Canadian government has overlooked in its social welfare programs governing the process of child adoption. Nancy Macdonald describes this as "custom adoption". In Mi'kmaq culture, the natural father and mother of a child can put their child up for adoption by another member(s) of the Mi'kmaq community. The biological parents continue to have some rights over their child, and can retrieve their child if all parties (child, adoptive parents, and biological parents) agree to it. Such a custom contrasts sharply with traditional laws governing children adoption in Canada, where it is generally very difficult for adopted children to return to the custody of their biological parents. This culture of custom adoption is ancient and pre-dates any Canadian government laws or programs designed to govern the issue. Children are respected and highly valued in Mi'kmaq culture and are seen as equals of adults.
In contrast to Mi'kmaq beliefs, Canadian beliefs and laws concerning child adoption have long reflected Western values without taking into account the customs of Aboriginal Peoples such as the Mi'kmaq. "Family ties" were seen as a crucial component in fostering the healthy development of a child. A woman's supposed morality was also seen as a determining factor in whether they could be granted the right to adopt a child. Unwed women, for instance, were long denied this privilege. In the 1970's the Children's and Families Services Act was applied to Mi'kmaq peoples and this resulted in many Mi'kmaq children being put up for adoption, without any regard whatsoever to the long-established system of custom adoption already in place in Mi'kmaq culture, and the different ways In which the Mi'kmaq view family and the adoptive process. Since then, aspects of the Indian Act (1985) and Constitution Act (1982) have been applied to reinforce the rights of Mi'kmaq to uphold their own customs of child adoption. Initiatives to revise current laws have been underway since the 1990s, in order to accommodate the tradition of custom adoption in Mi'kmaq culture. Since the 1990's it has been said that custom adoption has continued to thrive within Mi'kmaq communities, although many continue to be unaware of this practice.
Question- Why aren't there any black or aboriginal teachers and history education?
Comment- "We" must take ownership of the issues of our communities. We must know our story and who we are as a people. We must move past the history and move forward to create a future where we can live in harmony with everyone in togetherness and mutual respect.
These summaries of the following discussions were prepared by volunteers from their notes taken during the workshops. While the CRRF fulfills its function as an organization which stimulates discussion on race relations issues, and provides opportunities for experts and communities to network and exchange information on these question, the posting of these summaries does not necessarily imply endorsement of the ideas and opinions expressed herein.