When we think of Nova Scotia's cultural heritage, we think of the
Scots and their well documented history of the Clans. We think of
the British, and the
French settlers, and later, the Swiss
and German, all nations with recorded histories from 'the motherland'.
We don't always think of the
Mi'kmaq, who are struggling today to piece together a written history
from their oral storytelling traditions, or of the Black
pioneers, whose history in North America has been lost for almost
recent years, there were no textbooks in our schools that offered these
histories. There were very few passages devoted to indigenous peoples
or to the settlers of African heritage, and those that did exist were
often biased or even racist.
Today, the textbook recording of black history has improved, but it
still has a long way to go. According to a recent
CBC report, members of "The Black Learners' Advisory Committee"
which was formed several years ago in the wake of racial discord at
a local high school, state that not enough black history "puts
black students at a social and economic disadvantage when they're written
Conversely, all students should have the advantage of learning just
how richly diverse our history is and how indebted we are to those we've
neglected historically. There is no place for racial or cultural exclusion
in Canada's education system.
The First Nations welcomed us. In Nova Scotia at some of Canada's earliest
settlements, we learned from the Mi'kmaq how to survive through the
long winters, how to hunt for food, build shelters, and stay warm. Later,
black settlers helped to build our towns, bringing with them carpentry
skills and seamanship. They were millrights and farriers, farmers and
labourers. They too had to learn to survive, but they did it on their
own, ekeing out a living on some of the most infertile land in the province,
the reward promised for military service. Many were never given the
land and provisions they fought for. They were forced to live as squatters,
desolate outcasts in a country that had offered freedom and a rightful
place in society.