The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Facing hate with grace


It’s a sad commentary on the ignorance-rooted prejudice still directed at Canada’s Indigenous people.

When a new greeting sign to Cape Breton Island, written in the Mi’kmaw language, was erected over the Canso Causeway highway last week, a celebrator­y online post and photos by Treaty Education Nova Scotia drew — among otherwise positive responses — a number of illinforme­d and hateful comments.

A story on Saltwire Network about the racist backlash to the sign also drew similarly negative comments on social media.

The new sign — which reads “Pjila’si Unama’kik,” meaning, loosely, “Welcome to the land of fog” — joins an older “Welcome to Cape Breton” sign that remains in place.

As some commenters rightly noted, it’s sadly telling that Gaelic-language signs found in various Cape Breton communitie­s seem to offend no one, yet a Mi’kmaw language message of welcome somehow causes controvers­y.

The response of Treaty Education Nova Scotia — a partnershi­p between the provincial government, Mi’kmaw Kina’matewey and Millbrook First Nation that works to teach Nova Scotians about the Mi’kmaq, their inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and our shared history on this land — was perfect.

Instead of deleting the negative messages, the organizati­on used the opportunit­y as a teaching moment, to inform about the Mi’kmaw people’s history, their friendship treaties with the British and the need for reconcilia­tion.

“Removing the comments does not get rid of the prejudice and discrimina­tory attitudes that continue to exist,” Treaty Education Nova Scotia said in its follow-up post.

“If we don’t understand our shared history, what the treaties are and why they are important, how can we move forward and reconcile? It’s a role we all have to play,” Celeste Sulliman, director of Treaty Education Nova Scotia, told Saltwire’s Ardelle Reynolds.

Lack of education — and therefore understand­ing — about Indigenous history, including treaty rights, lies at the core of incidents like this.

Though Nova Scotia and other provinces today do a much better job of teaching public school students about First Nations’ history, including Aboriginal rights under legally binding treaties, in the past, that was not always seen as a priority.

So, building greater understand­ing with the population at large takes time and patience.

Remember, in historical terms, the rest of us are the newcomers here. The Mi’kmaq have lived in this region — including Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and parts of Quebec — for some 13,000 years.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we won’t approach negativity with negativity; we will approach it with truth, because we can’t have reconcilia­tion without truth,” said Sulliman.

An admirable attitude.

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