Growing up in Sydney Cape Breton I was barely aware of the first nation population in the area. In my teens I heard stories of Membertou ‘The Reserve’ & once my drinking career was launched I was aware of it in the context of bootleggers. At least one booze buddy spoke of have an Indian girlfriend, whom we never met. The Reserve was also a place where some guys, maybe even my Dad, went for cheap cigarettes.
The Reserve population was MikMak – I only heard it called that so, not sure it was actually spelled – MicMac? An anglo corruption of Mi’kmaq. Some spellings weren’t taught in school. Its place in the history of the region was never mentioned. We did learn about Louisbourg – the conflict between the French & English. Alexander Graham Bell in Baddack.
The other Cape Breton reservation was in Eskasoni on Bras d’Or Lake. I also heard of one in Shubenacadie on the mainland. But I never visited either of them. On my last visit to Sydney I went through Membertou with my sister. Lots of houses selling ‘smokes.’ A museum with artifacts & compulsory dream catchers. I don’t recall seeing anything about the Residential Schools but, thanks to wiki, I know the only one in the Maritimes was in Shubenacadie. It closed in 1967.
I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who lived there. Sydney, as small as it was, was very strongly segregated. There was a sizeable black community in one area that rarely went beyond its boundaries with its own schools, churches (one of the first Black churches in Canada). The same held true for the First Nations’ towns. I do recall that one of the Eskasoni high school boys sports teams (probably hockey but maybe basketball) had a reputation for being good players but rough.
I write this memory in the shadow of the recently discovered bodies of children in Kamloops. So many levels of dismay resonate in me – not merely the racist nature of this but also of the way children, all children, have been treated for their own good, by various legal systems. In the USA the separation of immigrant families & how the parents of a number of those children can no longer be found; stories of European war orphans shipped en-masse to North America.
Children – those pure innocent possessions that get marched out as excuses for not exposing their tender sensibilities to sex education, same sex affection, etc. One of tenants of a current USA conspiracy theory is a secret childproof cabal – if you deny this conspiracy you are clearly a pedophile.
There is no easy wrap-up for this post. History is often a wound than will never heal.