As a baby, he was shipped from New Brunswick to a Nova Scotia reserve with his family when authorities realized his father, “an Indian,” was receiving welfare.
But, Lawrence Paul would rise above the poverty and racism he confronted throughout his lifetime to lead his First Nation community to economic success over a span of 28 years as the chief of the Millbrook First Nation community.
He rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty, fought stubbornly with ardent passion to win gains for his people and clinked glasses with more than a few pub-drinking partners in his day.
Chief Paul was 79 when he died last Wednesday night following a lengthy hospital stay.
He was known far and wide, and from near and far they came on Monday to see the former Mi’kmaq chief laid to rest.
“What a sad day for all of us in the Mi’kmaw nation who came to bid farewell to a man of strength, integrity, endless humour and most of all love,” his niece, Violet Paul said, at the start of her eulogy, to an overflow crowd of mourners at the Sacred Heart Church in Millbrook.
“But not many of you got to see that special side of him,” she said, of the funny and loving version of the former chief that he reserved for special friends and family.
“One of the things that he told me all the time was, he said, ‘when you get up there and speak for me,’ he said, ‘don’t you dare make a fool out of me or yourself, or I will haunt you forever…’ So I had to be very careful of how I chose every word that I wrote for him today,” she said, prompting gentle laughter from the assembly.
And there were many in attendance to hear her words, including the Atlantic Grand Council of Mik’maq and the Atlantic chiefs, friends and family from all across Nova Scotia and various provinces, representatives from the Cape Breton Regional Police, the Truro Police, RCMP members who served as his pallbearers and political colleagues.
Included among the latter group was former federal minister Herb Dhaliwal, who travelled from Vancouver to attend the service.
“Chief Lawrence Paul and I worked together after the Marshall decision,” Dhaliwal said, in reference to the 1999 Supreme Court decision that restored fishing rights to aboriginal peoples.
“And he showed a tremendous amount of leadership in ensuring that we signed agreements for the betterment of his community.”
Dhaliwal said he attended the funeral because Paul “was a great Canadian” who contributed to the transformation of his community while displaying “tremendous leadership.”
“He was part of the solution,” the former minister said. “He was a hard bargainer, no doubt. But he was also realistic and worked hard to make sure that those agreements were not only signed but were successful,” Dhaliwal said.
“We didn’t always agree on everything but in the end he realized we were all working toward the same goal, to improve the lives of Canadians. And his contribution was tremendous.
“Because of his leadership others also joined in and ensured that we had a regulated fishery and orderly fishery that everybody could benefit (from) and in the end is creating jobs and opportunities for all the first nations, not only in this part of the region but across the county as well.”
Beyond the standing-room only crowd inside the church, those who came to offer their final farewells to Paul also packed the nearby Millbrook Community Centre, where the service was viewed on a large audio/visual screen, or milled about outside.
Beyond his political and economic achievements, such as the creation of the Truro Power Centre to name just one, the mourners also heard of the more personable side of the former chief – such as his love of Johnny Cash music and how he would “chain smoke with the windows rolled up” on long drives to one meeting or another.
“We now say goodbye to a wonderful person who was loved by so many,” Violet Paul said, in her closing address.
Current Millbrook Chief Robert Gloade, who estimated an overall attendance of at least 500 people, expressed pleasure to see such a “really well” attended service.
“And it was nice to have people from all over Canada pay respect for all that he has done,” Gloade said.
“He was a great man,” added band Coun. Peter Gloade. “He had a strong voice.”