Manson Gloade grew up in the Mi’kmaw community of Millbrook, Nova Scotia and worked for the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for 36 years. Now retired, Manson lives in Amherst with his wife, Beverley, and serves on the Indigenous Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.
The Diocese of Antigonish is gratefully and prayerfully in Mi’kmaki, the unceded and ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaw nation. In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, our diocesan staff hosted Manson and Bev for a daylong session on treaties, politics and growing up Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. The afternoon discussion was joined by Deacon Tom Sylliboy, from the Eskasoni Mi’kmaw nation and the only ordained Mi’kmaw Roman Catholic clergy.
Here is a summary of the day.
“We are each one feather … collectively we can soar to great heights.”
The eagle feather is a powerful symbol in indigenous culture.
Manson likened the feather in his hand to individuals – unique, a bit beaten up, solitary yet when working together with other feathers, can achieve flight.
A Brief History
Indigenous peoples had their own governments and social systems.
Their language was oral, and they relied on storytelling to share and preserve their history.
When faced with colonial cultures that used the written word, indigenous culture was at a disadvantage.
“It is important to have history written down, even if it’s wrong … I can tell a story, you can tell a story, and it’s not the same weight as if it’s written down.”
Chief Membertou was baptized by Fr Pierre Maillard at Port Royal, becoming the first Mi’kmaq Roman Catholic. Since 1610, the Mi’kmaw nation has embraced Roman Catholicism as an important part of their spirituality.
Peace and Friendship Treaties were signed between the Mi’kmaq and British Crown
Original treaties were written down, but did not capture the nuances, details and intentions of either side. For the indigenous elders unfamiliar with the written word and speaking a language for which a written version needed to be developed, there was much lost in translation. For the colonials signing on behalf of the British crown, the treaties solved an immediate need on the part of the British to avoid any hostilities and secure alliances in settling this territory. There was little thought given to impacts of these treaties in the years and centuries to come.
In the centuries to follow, Indigenous history would be written in and by the courts:
- indigenous elders retelling their oral history
- lawyers arguing about what was said
- a judge ruling on what was said
- a court recorder writing it down
Within those layers, original indigenous history can not only be lost, but become contradictory to itself as court rulings are challenged, re-argued, revised or dismissed.
Under today’s law, M’ikmaw treaties could be called heresay by those seeking to dismiss them. Another view, however, is that they were ‘gentlemen’s agreements’, sealed with a verbal agreement and a handshake that in those times was more binding than a signed document.
Mi’kmaq treaties are now recognized constitutionally, but in the challenges, contradictions and lost information, misinformation takes root and grows into confusion and resentment in subsequent generations.
Confederation became the law of the land; the British North America (BNA) Act divided powers between the federal and provincial governments. Neither wanted the ‘Indian’ responsibility
The Peace and Friendship Treaties recognized indigenous tribes as forms of government yet indigenous peoples were not represented in government and had no legal standing as Canadian citizens. Responsibility for them was akin to “being picked last for the baseball team.”
Federal government objective turned from assigning responsibility to eliminating the ‘problem.’
In the United States, federal government policies favoured literal eradication.
In Canada, the federal policy would not be eradication but assimilation – keep the person, kill the Indian within. The desire was for the Indian person to blend into colonial culture, on land set aside for them but not necessarily their ancestral land as promised in the treaties.
Governance was rooted in ‘management of’ Indigenous peoples by and for colonial interests, rather than governance for and by Indigenous peoples themselves as recognized nations within our nation.
Since Confederation, responsibility for Canada’s indigenous peoples have been with eight different federal departments and ministries:
1867-1869: Secretary of State, federal
1869-1873: Secretary of State, provincial
1873-1880: Department of the Interior
1880-1936: Department of Indian Affairs
1936-1950: Department of Mines and Energy
1950-1965: Department of Citizenship and Immigration
1965-1966: Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources
1966-present day: Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Indigenous peoples were represented in the federal government by whatever department ‘got stuck with them’, or the department serving the government’s true interest in indigenous issues – for example, Mines and Energy, Northern Development or Natural Resources were all departments devoted to land and economic development, not human governance or services. Also note the inclusion with Citizenship and Immigration: Indigenous peoples were the first citizens of the land that became Canada and retained citizenship with the Peace and Friendship Treaties, yet were governed for a time by a department devoted to new and non-citizens.
Enfranchisement: Indigenous individuals would be ‘enfranchised’ if they chose to revoke their indigenous status to become full Canadian citizens. Indigenous people needed to be enfranchised to attend university, join the military, or become a doctor, lawyer, or clergy. Enfranchisement was billed as a way to gain all privileges of full Canadian citizenship. It also reduced the number of indigenous citizens under federal responsibility.
From 1869-1985, an indigenous man choosing to be enfranchised would automatically enfranchise his wife and children. An indigenous woman marrying a non-indigenous man was also automatically enfranchised. However, an indigenous man marrying a non-indigenous woman would retain his status and gain status for his wife and future children.
The founding of the Department of Indian Affairs and development of a residential school policy as a means to address the ‘Indian’ problem.
“When a school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents who are savages and while he will learn to read and write, his habits and traditions are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.” – Prime Minister John A. Macdonald
The federal government began promoting a system of industrial training schools adapted to educate indigenous children away from their families and communities with the intent of removing their own culture and replacing it with colonial language, customs and skills. The Roman Catholic Church, as well as churches of various Protestant denominations, were contracted by the federal government to run these schools. Churches engaged as a means of conversion to their faiths, a mission to “save souls.”
At its peak, the residential school system in Canada had more than 130 institutions.
In our diocese, children were sent to the residential school in Shubenacadie, NS. The ‘Shubie School’ closed in 1969. The last school in Canada closed in the mid 1990s.
In white colonial culture, residential schools remained a historical institution and “in the past” until June 2021 when 200 unmarked graves were found at a former residential school site in Kamloops, BC. The country’s white citizens reacted in shock and horror. Indigenous citizens saw one more sign of atrocities they had encountered and lived with for generations.
The Indian Act was made law by an act of Parliament, and it remains in effect today.
The Indian Act determines who is and is not legally indigenous, and continues to govern individual indigenous status as well as indigenous community funding and services.
Indigenous citizens gained the right to vote in federal elections.
The C-31 amendment to the Indian Act restored indigenous status to indigenous women married to non-indigenous men and their children, and stated that moving forward, status could not be gained or lost through marriage. This evolved into two groups of indigenous citizens – those who had retained status, and those whose status had been restored. In some cases, the latter were not welcomed back to their communities. Tensions were escalated by communities struggling to provide their existing populations with education, social assistance and housing. They wanted no more competition for resources that didn’t meet current demand. While the amendment restored status to many indigenous individuals and families, it also turned indigenous communities against each other.
The Way Forward
First step is education, which is why Manson Gloade willingly shares his research and perspectives to anyone interested in listening, learning and discussing Truth and Reconciliation.
It is also important to see and own history as a fluid continuation of time, rather than divided chapters in a book.
The past does not stay ‘in the past’ but flows into the present and lays groundwork for the future. Injustices and wounds inflicted in the past do not disappear with the passage of time but carry forward, festering and spreading, until addressed and healed.
Manson recalled a focus group held by his department into knowledge of treaty rights.
One young man called the treaties ‘ratty old pieces of paper’ that should be torn up.
Manson was furious, until he realized the young man’s comment was from frustration.
“What do those Indians want?” he asked. Without knowing what the treaties promised, there was no way to know what was needed today.
“There were two kids fighting over an orange. Their mother was busy, wanted them to just go away, so she told them to be quiet and cut the orange in two, gave each kid half. She thought she solved the problem, but neither kid was happy. It turned out one wanted the peel for a science project. The other wanted the inside because he was hungry. They could have both got want they wanted, if they had been able to explain it, and if she was willing to listen.”
“What do those Indians want” is asked by someone who just wants the ‘problem’ to go away.
If there is the chance to dialogue, to share what is wanted, chances are everyone can get what they want.
Deacon Tom Sylliboy brought the day to a close with a reflection and prayer.
For recommended reading and resources: