Friday, July 10, 2009

savages


i sat down with daniel paul yesterday morning in his spryfield house. as part of my road warrior herald series, i've been trying to get my head around the complex history and present of mi'kmaq nova scotians and white nova scotians.

it started years ago, when a new zealand friend told me about the maori, the indigenous people of that country. she is an ordinary white person like me, but knew some of their language, history, culture and customs. and of course anyone who watches rugby has seen the fantastically fearsome haka.

when it was my turn to talk about the mi'kmaq, i drew a big blank. 20 years education in nova scotia, and hm... wigwams, dreamcatchers.... that was about it.

can you imagine a national canadian team starting off a hockey game with a first nations ritual?

so i'm learning. a good first step was reading paul's we were not the savages. it's a history book, but not as you know it: paul writes a fierce, punchy and at times abrasive history of nova scotia from a mi'kmaq perspective.

it's a must-read for any thinking nova scotian - or anyone interested in learning about first nations issues - even if it occasionally makes white people feel awful and disoriented.

i kept thinking of the steve martin line in the jerk. he's raised by a black family and has always been told he's black, so when he heads off to the big city, his matra is: don't trust whitey.

most horrific is the problem of edward cornwallis, the nasty piece of work who spent a couple of years here establishing halifax. you're probably heard about the scalping proclamation and the 'all's fair in war' defense, but the real problem is that cornwallis paid people to murder any mi'kmaq person - that includes 3-year-old children, old women, and pregnant mothers. so white people went into the woods, murdered strangers, and the state paid them if they brought back their scalps.

so the first thing visitors to halifax see today when arriving by bus or train? cornwallis. that statue should make all of us sick to our stomachs every time we see it, and it should be torn down. sign the petition here and forward it to everyone you know.


paul is a wonderful man and very politely helped me dissect the racism most white people here inherit. it's unconscious, not coming from hate, but out of ignorance. for example: look at the postcard paul used for the cover of the second edition. that's joe paul, who was then about 100 years old, and it was printed in the early 1900s.

can you work out why it captures the whole idea of we were not the savages?

---

in true hali-style, after being so excited to meet daniel paul for the first time, i ran into him at the pub a few hours later. we were both at stayner's for the launch of nova scotia: visions of the future, a collection of essays my editor at pottersfield, lesley choyce, has launched to celebrate pottersfield's 30th birthday.

we've both contributed to it; his is much better than mine!
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