Two hundred year-old scalp law still on books in Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia government is having a hard time saying it's sorry.

Last year, native chiefs asked the premier to remove scalping laws from the books. The 1756 proclamation offers a bounty for each Mi'kmaq scalp. It's never been removed and the province has never apologized.

Now a CBC request under the Freedom of Information Act reveals the government is shrouding its actions in secrecy.

It may sound like ancient history, but native chiefs like Lawrence Paul say the bounty casts a shadow over their people. "We feel it's a little slur against the Mi'kmaq people, yet today," he said.

What hurts even more is two governments' inaction.

Last year, the Liberal government was asked to publicly rescind the law. In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act the response is two-sided.

First officials say the bounty was superseded by later treaties. Then they add they're not sure Nova Scotia has the power to rescind something that took place before Confederation.

"The question is whether or not the jurisdiction is in the province of Nova Scotia, in the government of Canada, or in the British Crown," says Michael Baker the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the new Conservative government.

But clearly, the Nova Scotia government is concerned about the issue. Memo after memo, document after document is completely whited out. The reason given is that the public can't know about discussions held by cabinet or with the province's lawyers.

Chief Paul says he'd like to know what's in those blanked-out pages. "It would be very interesting reading," he said.

Money may be the reason. There is a possibility the government is afraid of saying it's sorry such a bounty ever existed, in case the Mi'kmaq then ask for compensation.