Canada is a story of encounters. This country is defined by the relationships between its different peoples. This summer, Canadians can celebrate one of those relationships: the warm friendship between the Mi’kmaw Nation and Acadian people.
As senators of Mi’kmaw and Acadian descent, it is a story we wanted to tell.
Mi’kmaw history with Europeans goes back to the beginning.
It is not a history without tragedy. Contact undoubtedly led to disease-related depopulation and social disintegration. On the other hand, new relationships took root at the community level.
As their friendship flourished, the Mi’kmaw Nation and French settlers traded not only goods but customs too. The first French settlers who arrived in 1604 progressively developed strong traditions and their own distinct identity, the Acadian culture.
Unfortunately, the conflicts of the 18th century disrupted this time of peace and stability.
In 1713, France ceded Acadia to the British. France retained its other pre-war North American possessions, including Île-Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island), as well as Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island).
Meanwhile, Mi’kmaw leaders signed treaties with the British to protect their way of life, only for the British to betray their promises, break the treaties and commit acts of violence in the following decades. For instance, most Mi'kmaq leaders in Nova Scotia regarded the unilateral establishment of Halifax as a violation of a 1726 treaty.
Later, in 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis placed a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaw people. Between 1713 and 1755, Acadian deputies were often summoned to swear oaths of allegiance to the British Crown. Mi’kmaw-Acadian friendship was considered a threat to the port of Halifax, which the Mi’kmaw had opposed. The Mi’kmaw Nation was to be repelled or wiped out; the Acadians to be deported.
”Le grand dérangement”, an ethnic cleansing took place between 1755 and 1763. Approximately 10,000 Acadians were expelled. They were deported to the English colonies, France, and the Caribbean. Thousands died of disease or starvation due to the horrible conditions on board ship. Many famously ended up in Louisiana, whence came all things “Cajun.” Others eventually came back and resettled in the Atlantic provinces.
The Mi’kmaw did not sit by while the British deported their Acadian neighbours. Mi’kmaw warriors took up arms and fought alongside Acadians against the British in several skirmishes. Other Mi’kmaw sheltered hundreds of Acadian fugitives.
Both our peoples pressed onward even when Confederation came along bringing about new struggles.
The Mi’kmaw Nation lost its land, culture and system of governance. Mi’kmaw children were sent to residential schools throughout the 20th century.
Acadians carried on as a fractured people, isolated from the rest of francophone Canada. Until the mid-1800s, Acadians were kept away from any political or economic power. Small Acadian communities in the Atlantic provinces survived precariously. However, things began to change with the establishment of higher education schools. An educated elite campaigned for more rights for the Acadians and a form of nationalism was born. This was the age of the “Renaissance acadienne.”
Decades later came the recognition of French as an official language in New Brunswick. It led to an Acadian cultural revival and today Acadians are part of vibrant communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, les Îles-de-la-Madeleine as well as in Québec, the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, France, and, of course, Louisiana. These communities are internationally recognized as part of the ”Grande Acadie.”
For the Mi’kmaw, in July 1997, the Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, the federal and provincial governments was signed to create a forum for discussing community-specific issues.
The Mi’kmaw of Nova Scotia also reopened the conversation with the federal and Nova Scotia governments on Aboriginal and treaty rights. On February 23, 2007, the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Framework Agreement was signed, outlining a process to “exercise constitutionally protected rights respecting land, resources and governance, to the extent the issues are dealt with in the Accord.”
It has been four centuries since our peoples met and more than 250 years since we overcame colonialization together. It is our hope not only to renew the bonds we share, but to also show Canadians what true reconciliation is all about.
From August 10 to 13, four Mi’kmaw communities as well as the Acadian people hosted the gathering at Grand Pré, Nova Scotia. The event was co-chaired by the Assembly of First Nations and the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse. Visit grandpre2017.ca to find out more.
Daniel Christmas is a Mi’kmaw senator representing Nova Scotia.
René Cormier is an Independent Acadian senator representing New Brunswick.
This article appeared in the August 10, 2017 edition of the Chronicle Herald.