"On which page do you recount the massacre of the Indians by the French?"
This question posed by a young French student, freshly arrived in Quebec, really struck me. The boy was reading my History of Quebec for Dummies and wanted to understand the idleness of the Aboriginal people he had met downtown.
"You won't find this page, I replied, because the French did not behave like the Spaniards or the English."
If I meet him again one day, I will recommend the beautiful posthumous book by the late Serge Bouchard, third and last volume of his trilogy of the Remarkable Forgotten devoted to great Aboriginal characters. He looks back on the journey of men like Anadabijou, Membertou, Kondiaronk and Pontiac, great “sagamos” of their Innu, Micmac, Algonquin and Odawa nation, wise and eloquent men, true partners and essential allies.
Beautifully illustrated, the book recalls the essential alliances that allowed the French to found New France and the Canadian ancestors to tame the continent.
The alliance sealed in Tadoussac, in May 1603, between the French and the Aboriginals is in his eyes “a pact quite unique in the annals of colonization”, because “everyone finds his benefit in it”. The second alliance with the Micmacs of Acadie was also fundamental.
As for the great peace of Montreal concluded with the Iroquois during the summer of 1701, it would have allowed New France to extend to the borders of the continent. The great chief Pontiac, very attached to the French presence, leads a merciless war against the English, the day after the Conquest.
The anthropologist, informed of the most scholarly works on the question, rejects the Mohawk claims to Montreal territory. Their ancestors, who arrived at the end of the 17th century, were "politico-religious refugees" who sought the protection of the French. Montreal would therefore not be their “ancestral land”.
Black and white view
The great merit of the anthropologist's unfinished book, written when his better half was stricken with cancer and he himself was suffering from serious health problems, is to make Aboriginal people, not victims, but actors in their story.
Its fault, on the other hand, is to present America before the arrival of Europeans as an “earthly paradise”, a Garden of Eden. Lyrical, often Manichean, Serge Bouchard presents the first inhabitants of America as virtuous and disinterested beings, feminists and ecologists. He evokes the prophecy of a certain Néolin, a native of Delaware origin, according to which the "Indians enjoyed direct access to paradise before the arrival of the Whites"...
To portray the “Indians” as bloodthirsty savages, to make the first French settlers into authentic heroes, was crude and inconsistent with historical truth; but to make them morally superior to “whites” is not much better. This black and white vision, I am convinced, is not the one that will allow true reconciliation.