October 1, 2018 3:00 pm
Updated: October 1, 2018 4:46 pm

‘We were called savages’: Mi’kmaq elders reflect on past decades of discrimination in N.S.

WATCH: Indigenous communities marking Treaty Day in Nova Scotia on Monday reflected on decades of discrimination in the province. As Alexa MacLean reports, Many Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia are still working to overcome the pain caused to generations of families by residential schools.

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Indigenous communities marking Treaty Day in Nova Scotia reflected on decades of discrimination in the province.

More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, stripping them of their culture and traditions.

The last federally-run residential school closed in the late 1990s.

Many Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia are still working to overcome the pain caused to generations of families by residential schools.

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“We’re still in an era of healing from the residential schools. I work with survivors back home in Cape Breton Island so when we talk about reconciliation, just recognizing their strengths and their willingness to also forgive and move on, should be the inspiration of reconciliation,” said Michael R Denny, a member of Eskasoni First Nation.

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Denny is a member of the Stoney Bear Singers, a group of Mi’kmaq musicians who performed during Treaty Day celebrations in Halifax.

“Treaty Day for me anyway, it represents more than just a regular day but for us to go out and to honour those treaty rights that we have. That our fathers and our grandfathers had fought for in order to hunt, to fish freely in our territory,” he said.

“I believe that’s very important because not only does it help our culture, preserve our culture but we’re out there practicing our culture.”

Dozens of people gathered in Grand Parade Square to celebrate the beginning of Mi’kmaq History Month in Nova Scotia.

One of the participants was Gerald Toney, a former chief of Annapolis Valley First Nation and current member of the Grand Council.

“What Treaty Day means to me is that our relationship with the non-Aboriginal groups around the province and the rest of Canada is coming together to be a better place to live and things are slowly changing,” he said.

Toney remembers a time when discrimination against the Mi’kmaq people was something he fought to overcome on a regular basis.

“I had to fight my way through high school. Literally, fist fighting. People were picking on you, start hitting you with objects and so on and we were called savages, wagon burners, all kind of names,” he said.

Gerald Toney of Annapolis Valley First Nation, remembers a time when he was discriminated against on a regular basis for being Indigenous.

Alexa Mac Lean/Global Halifax

Toney recalls several decades after he graduated, having a moment of “reconciliation” with a person he never imagined possible.

“One of the ones that was a French guy I went to school with every day. He came up to me 50 years later and apologized [for] the way he acted when he went to school with me. I almost dropped in my tracks when he said that and I cherished that so much that that comes from him, one of the guys that used to fight daily with us,” Toney said.

According to the Mi’kmaq History Month Committee, the Mi’kmaq people have been living in Nova Scotia for more than 11,000 years.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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