The genocide of the American Indians was the worst ethnic cleansing in history - interview
This is John Robles. I am speaking with Dr. Daniel N. Paul, a Mi’kmaq Elder and an Indian Historian.
Robles: Could a society that was based and started in that way, ever be called democratic or free or fair?
Paul: All the societies in the Americas, with very few exceptions, were built on genocide, on the blood of the indigenous people. People were wiped out. Some people put the estimate for the Caribbean Taíno people, for instance, as being somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 million when Columbus landed there, but within 50 years they were practically extinct.
So when you are looking at the overall total, it is almost unbelievable, and they talk about barbarism, people don’t discuss it too often but the Spaniards were using human flesh to feed dogs. And scalp proclamations were one of the favorite things of the English here in the Americas, putting a price on the heads of men, women and children. And then the spreading the smallpox was another thing they used quite liberally in trying to eliminate populations. And then simple starvation, after they destroyed most of the food sources of the indigenous people and trading patterns, the people lived in a state of malnutrition and many were starving to death, and when you get to that state, even a common cold could be fatal to you.
So, our population in the Americas was reduced, I would say, almost by 90% by time it was all over. And even in this day and age the Mi’kmaq, for instance, in Nova Scotia were down to 1,400 in 1850 and that stayed around the same until the 1940s, and then the Canadian government began to get a little bit of a conscience, or what have you, and started improving health services and food rations and so forth and so on. And today our population is up to about 25,000 now. We’re slowly but surely making a comeback.
Robles: How are the other tribes faring in Canada and in the United States?
Paul: The United States has owned up to the atrocities that went on there, there’s an apology I believe, that was issued by the Congress in 2010 but it’s what I call a silent apology. It was never broadcast around the world or anything like that and it was part of a Defense Procurement Bill that went through the Congress. But when you are looking at the overall thing, that is not what we need done in these countries. What we have to see is that they change curriculums and began to place in those school curriculums, the real history of the peoples that were here before the Europeans invaded. And I don’t call it discovery, I call it an invasion.
It was an invasion by people that were superiorly armed and they brought their wars to the Americas. The French and British were fighting almost constantly on this side of the water, at the same time fighting constantly on the European soil. So, they didn’t bring peace and prosperity to the indigenous people in the Americas - we already had that. And we all had good standards of living and some people like to believe that all our ancestors were standing along the shores of the Americas, cheering on the Europeans for coming over and saving them and civilizing them and so forth and so on, which is a pile of bull.
Robles: You mentioned the Taíno, I’m part Taíno Indian myself, why are groups such as the Taíno listed as being extinct when actually some people exist?
Paul: What’s happened here is, there are probably even some Beothuk, some people with some Beothuk blood in them. But when you can’t find a member of a tribe that is full-blooded, that is the point where you would call that tribe extinct in the sense that they are no longer with us in that sense, the Beothuk, for all intents and purposes, were wiped out. I believe there may be a few people around with some Beothuk blood in them but they didn’t live in the traditional way or what have you.
Robles: Can you describe a little bit the present state of the tribes in Canada and the United States?
Paul: We live under a state of systemic racism. In the United States and Canada you can’t have open discrimination against us anymore such as they had 30-40 years ago but we are still not viewed as equals in these societies and we are not treated as equals, and we are still seen by the vast majority of the people here, because of lack the lack of education, as people that came from barbarous tribes, savage tribes and not as people who came from civilized a community.
So, until we can overcome that kind of perception and like I said before, change curriculums in schools and begin to teach the truth, we still got a long way to go before we are treated as people who have come from civilizations that had every right to continue to exist and prosper in this world, and stop demeaning our people in the sense that we were never a civilized people, where in fact, we were.
And how to get that information out? It is slowly happening, it is going to take a long time and at the rate we’re going, I think we’ll be at it for a couple of centuries before we really make that final step. And one of the biggest steps has to be acceptance by Europeans that the genocide of the American Indians, the indigenous people of the Americas was probably one of the worst mass ethnic cleansings that this world has ever known and begin to make that part of history lessons, and so forth and so on.
There were great civilizations on this side of the water, there were rural civilizations, there were hunter-gathers civilizations, there were city dwellers and what have you, and all these. And how many people in Americas or around the world know that fact? Very few. And the reason that they don’t know is because it’s not taught.
Robles: By the ancestors of the people who committed genocide on them.
Paul: That’s right.
Robles: Thank you very much. I really appreciate you speaking with me.
You were listening to an interview with Dr. Daniel N. Paul, he’s an elder with Mi’kmaq Tribe, thanks for listening.