by Hilary Beaumont
Representatives of Canada and the Crown addressed the crowd at the Assembly of First Nations conference in Halifax, or rather K’jipuktuk, Tuesday morning. Premier Stephen McNeil, NS Lieutenant Governor John Grant, and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage opened the conference of about 1,000 delegates alongside national chiefs and elders.
The AFN, a national advocacy organization for First Nations people, passes resolutions through Chiefs’ assemblies to direct its work across Canada. At the Halifax conference, delegates are expected to discuss and come to resolutions on topics including an inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women, sustainable development of natural resources, and the recent Supreme Court decision that upheld the Tsilhqot’in First Nation’s land title in British Colombia.
In his address, Mayor Savage recognized the long relationship between European governance and Mi’kmaq peoples in the area. Before it was founded, Halifax was known and continues to be known as K’jipuktuk, which was Anglicized to Chebucto, Savage told the crowd.
Archaeologists have found evidence of Mi’kmaq and other First Nations people in the Atlantic Region at least 10,000 years ago. Maliseet and Mi’kmaq numbered as many as 10,000 and 15,000 people in what is now known as NS, PEI, New Brunswick and eastern Quebec. They lived and thrived off the land’s natural resources, and believed these should not be overextended or wasted.
Europeans began boating to what we now call Nova Scotia in the 1500s and 1600s to fish cod offshore. First contact with the newcomers exposed indigenous people to deadly viruses their immune systems had never fought before. By some estimates, the indigenous population declined by 50 to 90 percent. Trade, especially increased reliance on European goods, also changed the way First Nations people lived on the land we now call Canada.
Over a 75-year period in the 1700s, the French and British fought each other to settle in what the Crown now calls Nova Scotia. France, allied with the Mi’kmaq, eventually conceded the land to the British.
Between 1713 and 1761, the British, Acadians, Mi’kmaq and Maliseet attempted peace agreements. In 1749, after the English returned the fortress of Louisbourg to the French, Edward Cornwallis planted his feet on Mi’kmaq moose hunting territory and founded Halifax to establish British control of the region. A treaty the same year was meant to reaffirm an earlier 1726 treaty, but only one Mi’kmaq community signed while others refused, opposing the establishment of Halifax. So, as locals know, Cornwallis put a bounty on the scalps of all Mi’kmaq people.
Around 1760, the British settlers and Mi’kmaq peoples agreed to peace—though oral and written accounts differ on the terms—and buried the hatchet, an actual hatchet, near the corner of Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road.
Interpreting the history of the various “peace and friendship” treaties between native people and Europeans, including in Atlantic Canada, is the life work of Rick Hill of the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic, an aboriginal college in Ontario. Hill has studied the dozens of wampum belts traded to native peoples in return for symbolic hatches, as part of the treaties. The belts, Hill told the Assembly Tuesday, “are not just quaint cultural artifacts. These are the true agreements between our peoples, and we need to abide by them today.”
As he addressed the delegates, Savage began by acknowledging that HRM exists on Mi’kmaq territory. “The municipality and all the people here are beneficiaries of peace and friendship treaties with the Mi’kmaw,” he said, adding he hoped to build stronger relationships with them in the future.
Note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated archeological evidence of humans in Nova Scotia dates back 2,500-3,000 years. “Evidence of humans in our region dates back to more than 10,000 years ago (something of a point of pride in the Mi’kmaw community), notably at Debert, NS,” writes SMU archeologist Jonathan Fowler. “The precise calendar date is actually older than that and the specifics rely on radiocarbon calibration, which I refuse to discuss before my morning coffee.”
“When [Cornwallis] said, [scalping would be conducted by the British] ‘as in the custom of America,’ he was not referring to Mi’kmaq custom, but to the custom of British colonial governments. Massachusetts had pioneered the practice in 1696 and revived its bounty in 1744, offering cash for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women or children. Cornwallis extended that decree to Nova Scotia. The French offered their own scalp bounty, paying for the scalps of British soldiers, and urging Mi’kmaq warriors to ply that grim trade. There is no record of any Mi’kmaq leader issuing a similar proclamation.”
-From Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, by Jon Tattrie.
Pretty sure the Scots invented scalping, hundreds of years before Columbus.
I think it was “invented” by the Scythians, or they were the first known practitioners of it, several hundred years BC at least. But neither they nor the Scots brought it to North America.
I dunno, Chris, the Scots were largely the army of the empire. I think it was Ward Churchill who documented European scalpings of natives, at and after contact.
Interesting. Is that from one of his books? I’ve read some of his stuff but not that. I’d like to know more about how it came to the Americas. But there is significant archeological and anthropological evidence the practice originated in Scythia. See Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia, vol. 41, no. 4 (Spring 2002), pp. 57–67. [I can email you a copy if you’re interested.]
Hello Jeffs and thanks for your comments. I’ve been busy the last couple days and didn’t read your thoughts until now. I wish I had taken more time to fact-check this post, and I appreciate your feedback. This topic has been a tough learning curve for me and I’m trying to do better.
You’re doing just fine Hilary. Jeff W forgot the part where the British took over an inhabited territory and assumed it as their own. I’m not sure where Jeff P gets his supposed knowledge on early Mi’kmaw psychology but what you wrote is consistent with just about every Indigenous population. It was not taught to the Mi’kmaq by Greenpeace in the 70’s as Jeff P seems rather insultingly to suggest.
Agree with Jeff. And while you’re at it please don’t attribute modern environmental ethos to that early civilization. Simply romantic wishful thinking. They moved in to a location, wore it out and moved on. Sure, they were so few it worked just fine, but not out if any great plan.
The Mi’kmaq communities that refused sided with the French, started a war, invaded British settlements, and started scalping the settlers, to get the bounty the French were paying. THEN Cornwallis put a bounty on the natives.
I mean, if you want to be accurate about history.