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Broken Treaties

Proposal for a one hour TV documentary

Native American performance in Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem - January 2006

Scots/Irish and the restoration of culture and hope
among First Nations in Manitoba, Canada

See our Broken Treaties podcast

In essence, this documentary exposes how we – the Scots/Irish – mistreated and abused the native people of North America and how they, in turn, after many decades of this degradation, found their culture validated by Israeli Jews - of all people! And as we also seek to right the wrongs done in our name, the response has been quite amazing.

Today, among Native Americans, the rates of disease, alcoholism and suicide are higher than in many third world countries. Yet only a handful of people on this side of the Atlantic are even aware of the legacy of pain and social deprivation left by those who left these shores. Hidden from history for centuries, this is a story that now demands to be told!

Raymond McCullough was editor of Irish magazine, ‘Bread’, for six years and has for many years been involved in reconciliation between Protestant and Roman Catholic in Ireland. However, until the visit of a group of Native Americans to Belfast in 2004, he, like most people here, was completely unaware of any need for reconciliation between ourselves and the First Nations in North America.

A couple of hundred years ago, many Presbyterians and Roman Catholics left the shores of Ireland and Scotland because, under English rule, they were not free to practice their own faith. Presbyterians were mockingly referred to as ‘blackmouths’. Their worship services had to be held in secret in the hedges. Roman Catholics, likewise, had to visit a ‘mass rock’ out in the fields. Their priests were hunted, with a bounty on their heads.

So, we set sail for the new world – and the promise of freedom of religion! These people became the founders of modern-day Canadian culture. Freedom, that is, for us, the new white settlers, but not, apparently, for the indigenous people of North America. These were people who had already been living there for 4,000 years! We described these First Nations as ‘savages’ and ‘pagans’, their worship as ‘devil worship’ and their culture as ‘backward’ and ‘depraved’.

We made them all kinds of promises and signed solemn treaties. But we then proceeded to break every one of them! They welcomed us and agreed to share their land. But we stole all of the best land and forced them into ‘Reserves’ on the poorest and remotest parts. To this day only 3% of First Nation people have ever responded to the ‘white man’s religion’. And the people who carried out much of this policy had surnames that could easily be those of our Ulster neighbours!

The Mounties rounded up native children, cut off their hair, and placed them in a church-run Residential School system. This was a way of providing a ‘civilizing’ education ‘on the cheap’. But it resulted in widespread indoctrination, abuse, and the deaths of 50,000 children – a 40-50% death rate! To this day, neither the Canadian government, ‘Department of Indian Affairs’, nor the main denominations, have been willing to reveal where the bodies of those children are buried!

In February 2004, Grand Chief Linda Prince came to Belfast with ‘120 Drums of Thunder’. 80 First Nation Americans performed their native dances and shared their culture. They explained that they had come to bless the Celtic people – we who in the past, had definitely not been a blessing to them!

Imagine their surprise, then, that they, perceived at home as ‘dirty, drunken Indians’, should be so enthusiastically welcomed. This happened not only in Ireland, but also in Israel. In 1999, Linda led a group to Israel. In Jerusalem, Orthodox Jews arrived in tears when they heard the Drum Group singing one of their native ‘honour songs’. The Jews explained that the Native Americans were singing in Ancient Hebrew and their song was directed to the God of Israel!

Yet, back home in Canada they had been taught that the Creator had made a mistake in creating them, and that He had sent the churches to correct this mistake – along with beatings and abuse! This is the story of a journey - both literally and in terms of growing understanding - of Raymond’s first encounter with these hurting people - in his home town of Bangor, in Belfast and, later, in Manitoba; and of his return with a team of Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland to continue that healing process.

While in Belfast, members of the Drum Group invited Raymond and his daughter, Kelly, to come and visit them. This they did, arriving in Pukatawagan, a Reserve in northern Manitoba, at the end of May, 2004. Raymond was interviewed on local radio and apologized for the wrong things taught and carried out by our Celtic ancestors. This brought a very positive response from the presenter and from many who heard the broadcast. Since Raymond’s visit significant changes have been taking place in the lives of that community.

Commentary is shared with Raymond’s younger daughter, Connaire, (visiting there for the first time). She reports on the historical background to this story, exposing the legacy of the Residential School system and the government’s assimilation policy – the native gangs in Winnipeg, high rates of alcohol abuse and youth suicide – to the background of the 8-hour journey north to ‘Puk’ on the ‘Silver Bullet’. This is the 15 mph (max!) train, which travels the 130 miles from The Pas, through uninhabitable muskeg swamp, to the reserve.

Recently Native Americans have decided to reclaim the traditions which have been stolen from them.

Mike Spence, a native historian and former gang member, describes the devastating affect the government’s assimilation policy has had on native culture. Louis Daniels, a 71-year-old elder and speaker on native ways, describes a near-death encounter in 2001, and his experience as a Residential School victim. In spite of the abuse he is able to declare, "but I have forgiven those people!"

A group of five chiefs of native communities in Manitoba were made extremely welcome in Israel in August 2005. This has culminated in plans now for a First Nations Embassy in Jerusalem! The chief of Pukatawagan talks to Raymond about his own change of heart, the needs of the community and the reasons behind the First Nations strong affinity with Israel.

Young people share how significant the restoring of their native culture is to them and how their lives have been affected as a result. A youth worker describes her childhood in Puk during the 70s, (when bullets were flying freely!), the setting up of their first Youth Conference in 2001 and establishment of a Youth Drop-in Centre. Since then the previously high rate of suicide among young men, (previously an average of one per month!), appears to have ceased - at least, for now!

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