MI’KMAQS: A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE (October 9/07)

In conjunction with October being Mi’kmaq history month in Nova Scotia, celebrations were recently held to observe the Peace and Friendship Treaty that was signed in 1752.

Remarking on this event in e-mail I received recently, Mi’kmaq historian and author Dr. Daniel Paul said that October 1 “is treaty day, which is widely celebrated among our People.”

Dr. Paul also pointed out that October 1 is a day of remembrance. “It is the 258 anniversary of a proclamation issued by Governor Edward Cornwallis and Council, which offered a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women and children. It was the beginning of an effort by British colonial authorities to exterminate our ancestors.”

Now, at first glance, this may seem to be a harsh accusation. However, facts are facts. As Dr. Paul and other historians have documented and documented well, Edward Cornwallis and the provincial Council did indeed issue a proclamation – on October 1, 1749 – offering a bounty on the Mi’kmaq people. It’s in the records. Also in the records is the fact that British officialdom apparently approved of the action by Cornwallis.

Dr. Paul, in his book We Were Not The Savages, calls the offer of a bounty on the Mi’kmaq a “sick proclamation.” He further contends that by not rescinding or condemning this “inhuman proclamation, the Lords of Trade, policymakers for the British government, showed support, thus implicating the British Crown itself in the act of human genocide.”

If you find this difficult to believe, here’s an excerpt from Cornwallis’s proclamation: “And we do hereby promise, by and with the advice and consent of his Majesty’s Council, a reward of 30 pounds for every male Indian Prisoner, above the age of sixteen years, brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian twenty-five pounds, and twenty-five pounds for every Indian woman or child brought in alive: Such rewards to be paid by the Officer commanding at any of his Majesty’s Forts in this Province, immediately on receiving the Prisoners or Scalps above mentioned, according to the intent and meaning of this Proclamation.”

In 1750 Cornwallis and the provincial Council issued a similar proclamation upping the bounty on scalps. To his credit, Cornwallis rescinded both proclamations before he left office. However, Dr. Paul says the proclamation has never been officially repealed by the federal government, despite claims that it has, and is still on the books. Readers interested in reading Dr. Paul’s article on the government’s failure to repeal the scalp proclamation might wish to check out his website.

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