Early in my reading of Calvin White’s One Man’s Journey: The Mi’kmaw Revival in Ktaqmkuk, I realized how much I owe Gus White, Calvin’s father. The characteristics that made Calvin a good boss and, larger than that, a good overseer of research goals and plans are those that he ascribes to his father. Things taught by deed and word. Calvin says of his dad:
“People marvelled at how he could step into the middle of a confrontation and, with only words, diffuse anger and convince combatants to shake hands… On many occasions my father shared with me that these qualities required no hidden talent. To earn a reputation of being truthful means to have earned the trust of others. Gus truly practised the old saying ‘honesty is the best policy.’”(page 14)
And later, when entering the political arena, Calvin confides his fears to his father about meeting government officials:
“His first piece of advice was to never ever be afraid. My father reminded me that I had the truth on my side first and foremost. Second, my father remarked that the certificates and credentials framed on the wall behind the desks of these politicians had little to do with common sense. He told me to respect the officials but to not be intimated by them. Third, and lastly, my father said that if need be, to be honest, and if something was difficult to understand, that asking the politicians to explain or simplify their thoughts was never shameful.”(page 27)
Calvin put his father’s advice into practice in the writing of this book, I think. He explains Newfoundland and Mi’kmaw words for those not familiar with them. He gives a concise overview of what happened with indigenous peoples during and after Confederation in 1949 and gives suggestions for further reading. The traditional way of life is described in terms of what – and how – he was taught as he was growing up. Then he puts that in a larger discussion of social roles and sustenance practices within the community of Flat Bay. He describes Flat Bay and its location – geographic, social and cultural – in Bay St. George and the island of Newfoundland.
Identity to activism
Long before the advent of any Mi’kmaq political action, being from Flat Bay meant being regarded by others as “Indian” or “jackatar” – rarely, if ever, compliments. As well as conflicts at the individual level, problems increased at the socio-economic level as wage employment replaced subsistence activity as the primary means of supporting oneself and one’s family. Again, Calvin explains this through his own work life as well as that of the community and region.
All those things added up to a reclaiming of indigenous identity and claiming of rights and benefits guaranteed by the Canadian government. Calvin takes us through the community and political work that led to the formation of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. Again, both a personal and overall view.
The story ends with the creation of the Qalipu band and the establishment of its membership. In this part, and the earlier section about the FNI, he deals with issues that caused conflict within the Mi’kmaw population. He explains what happened and why, and where he stood. Hard to do, but he manages it fairly. His father’s lessons again, I think.
A chronology of events from 1947 to the late 1980s is appended, along with the full document of a plan for registration that he discussed in the body of the book. Best of all, to my mind, is the photo album. Lovely to see pictures of his family and those who worked so hard for recognition of the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq. Also lovely is the cover artwork and author picture. Both are paintings by Calvin’s son Nelson.
Less than a month after One Man’s Journey came out, the White family had another cause for celebration. Daughter Judy was appointed to the Canadian Senate. Congratulations!