Paul was at Liverpool Regional High School on April 5, speaking to the students of the Mi’kmaq studies class about the history of aboriginals in Nova Scotia.
History taught in school isn’t showing the whole picture says Paul. Much of the Mi’kmaq history is still missing from the history books, but it is slowly changing.
Paul has worked to raise awareness about first nations history over the past 30 years, with books such as “We were not the savages.” Everything in his book is freely available in the Nova Scotia archives, he says, but has been left out of school textbooks.
For over 100 years when the French first came to Nova Scotia, they lived together harmoniously. Even intermarriages were not unheard of. It was not until the lands were ceded to the British in the early 1700’s that troubles began to appear. Tensions escalated through most of the first half of the century, until it came to the point were scalping proclamations were issued.
“The Mi’kmaq had a good reason to fight. They were fighting for their country. The British did not have a good reason. They were trying to take the country for themselves,” says Paul.
Some figures that are revered, such as the founder of Halifax Edward Cornwallis, has facts about them glossed over. Cornwallis was of the opinion the Mi’kmaq people should be exterminated from the peninsula of Nova Scotia, and he expanded the bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women and children.
“There are people today that defend what Cornwallis did. How do you defend the indefensible?”
Examples of change in the education system do exist he says. The state of Maine changed their history books to reflect the whole history of Europeans and the Mi’kmaq people, including the darker side.
There is still work to be done though, he says. There is still a preconception that the aboriginals were the aggressors, and attacked the Europeans without provocation. Paul cited an example of a work by Thomas H. Raddall called Roger Sudden as grossly inaccurate in its portrayal of the Mi’kmaq in the 1700’s. Instead of calling for a ban of the book though, Paul says it should be used as a tool to fight the racism that still exists.
Paul was born in 1938 and grew up in Nova Scotia, after his parents were forced to a reservation in Indian Brooks. He says some of his first school memories in the residential schools were being taught he was from an inferior race.
Rights were very limited for anyone of aboriginal decent when he was a young man. It wasn’t until 1960 that aboriginals could vote without giving up their status, and even then they still faced severe racism.
Now sometimes invisibility is the greatest issue. When Annapolis Royal put in a new sign, it originally said it was the first settlement in North America. Paul challenged the sign, arguing the aboriginal people had been in North America for millennia. The sign was changed after meeting with officials from the community, but he says that is an example of why it needs to be taught in schools.
“Until people begin to speak up, there will be no change,” he says.