When Daniel Paul found Cornwallis

An excerpt from the Mi’kmaw elder’s new biography.

click to enlarge Daniel Paul: Mi’kmaw Elder by Jon Tattrie is available now from Pottersfield Press. The book’s official launch will take place October 18, at Dalhousie University. - POTTERSFIELD PRESS
Pottersfield Press
Daniel Paul: Mi’kmaw Elder by Jon Tattrie is available now from Pottersfield Press. The book’s official launch will take place October 18, at Dalhousie University.

Daniel Paul found his rival in a pub in 1965. He and his brother Lawrence and their Indian Brook friend Norman Brooks were upgrading their education together in Dartmouth. Getting out of school early one day, the trio headed to Halifax’s Piccadilly Tavern on Argyle Street for a few beers. They had enough cash to buy the first round, but then ran dry.

Norman and Danny, sitting side by side facing Lawrence, told him they had no idea where he’d get his cash, but they knew where they were getting theirs. They drew his attention to the wall behind his head. On it was Edward Cornwallis’s 1749 scalping proclamation. Danny meant it as a joke, but as he stood and read the words of the former city government making it legal to murder Mi’kmaq people like him, he started changing.

Danny had heard rumours, usually offhand or incredulous mentions that in the mid-1700s the British had put a bounty on the head of all Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia, but he didn’t take them seriously. As he recalled in We Were Not the Savages, “although I knew that bounties were put on certain animals, such as porcupines, from time to time by governments, I never really took those statements about bounties on the Mi’kmaq seriously because I couldn’t imagine that a people who claimed to be civilized could propose such an evil plan. When young, it takes time to shed your innocence.”

His innocence fell away in the Piccadilly. He stopped laughing, and started feeling sick. He realized it was probably a replica, not the original order, and that made him feel a little better. He got up close and read the whole thing. Here’s the part that introduced Danny to his life’s work, extracted from the Halifax council minutes of October 1, 1749:

“That, in their opinion, to declare war formally against the Micmac Indians would be a manner to own them a free and independent people, whereas they ought to be treated as so many banditti ruffians, or rebels, to His Majesty’s Government.

“That, in order to secure the province from further attempts of the Indians, some effectual methods should be taken to pursue them to their haunts and show them that because of such actions, they shall not be secure within the province.

“That, a company of volunteers, not exceeding 50 men, be immediately raised in the settlement to scour the wood all around the town.

“That, a company of 100 men be raised in New England to join with Gorham’s during the winter, and go over the whole province.

“That, a reward of 10 guineas be granted for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed.”

He would eventually learn the British government of those days had in fact issued three bounties for Mi’kmaq children, women and men like him.

Danny was just finding his way in the city and in life. He didn’t have time to dig into this drinking-house decoration. But he would return to it years later, finding the proclamation still in his mind, building up a great anger. He saw a clear pedigree from Cornwallis’s proclamation that declared his Mi’kmaw ancestors were not a free and independent people, but ruffians and rebels to the legitimate British government, to modern times and the refusal of successive governments to acknowledge his people as a people to be treated as free and independent. He set out to right that wrong


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