Right in the centre - More history lessons


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

I have said many times that history, or the past, is a great place to visit, but a poor place to live.

Our problem today is that our history is hardly ever visited and examined and yet we let the dark shadows of history affect us and we don’t even know why.

Canadians are under the impression that we are peace-loving, apologetic people who want to be left alone to make our own decisions. The assumption is that we have always been that way. That assumption is far from the truth.

Before the European settlers came to what is now known as Canada, there were a large number of people groups who hunted, gathered, fished and farmed. Sometimes, they got along. There was trade and some cooperation. But it wasn’t always the case. There were conflicts, lots of them. Some were over buffalo hunting, some over women and slaves, some about jealousies. There is evidence of many battles.

I recently read a book by John Houston about Inuit history. Houston spent many years living in the north, often in tents or igloos. He heard the stories and saw the places where the people told about their history.

One story that stood out to me was about some hunters who travelled into unfamiliar territory. The local hunters took exception to the perceived intrusion, didn’t know these new people and simply attacked them, slit their throats and left their bodies on the ice flow. There may have been many periods of peace along the way, but war and violence has marred everyone’s history.

Champlain came to what is now Quebec in 1608. Yes, he traded and did a lot of things with the “Indians”, but he killed a fair number, too. The First Nations people often returned the favour.

I am reading a detailed history of the development of the city of Halifax. The First Nations people raided and killed the newcomers for years. However, the lure of a deep sea port at Halifax, the “Warden of the North” was too strong a need to be snuffed out by “Indian” raids. To be sure, the British killed a lot of people, their own and their enemies, as they wrestled Halifax into being. Over the centuries, the British government prevailed and made Halifax into an important sea port for military and trade purposes.

The British method of maintaining peace and progress involved a lot of non-peaceful processes. Errant soldiers or sailors were simply shot or hung. One British appointed governor took particular delight in knowing that, so he built his grand house on a hill overlooking the city square. He could, therefore, observe the public hangings that took place as a method of keeping all varieties of dissent and disobedience in line.

The War of 1812-14, between the United States and the British portion of what is now Canada, saw thousands of people killed as successive raiding parties went back and forth. What is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island was destined to be the United States’ 14th colony. Decades of intrigue, negotiations and trade failed to bring it into the US fold and thousands of lives were lost in the battles. It was a matter of great disappointment to the U.S. that the now Canadian provinces didn’t become part the United States of America.

Fast forward to the mid 1800s and there were ongoing battles between First Nations People and many between First Nations and Europeans. By 1869, Canada had decided to take over the north-west from The Hudson’s Bay Company. Problem is, the government of Canada didn’t tell the locals. The first time the residents of Red River (now Winnipeg) and surrounding area heard about it was when the surveyors showed up.

After the troubles at Red River that resulted in a few deaths and the 1885 “Riel Rebellion” that resulted in a lot more, Canada went into a more passive form of killing off their own people.

First Nations people died of starvation, disease ravaged all communities. Residential schools resulted in a lot of deaths, which has scarred our nation.

The underlying issue is that violence, force, coercion, ignorance and sheer stupidity needs to be removed from our governance. You would think that, with centuries of re-learning, that lesson would sink in. Unfortunately, the situation we find ourselves in today would indicate we have more to learn.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.