Daniel Joseph Paul is still haunted by the decision to take his seven-year-old son off life support in 1997.
“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t rest, my mind was like a train getting ready to derail. I tried to sleep using those other things,” said the 61-year-old who is known as Danny Paul in Membertou First Nation.
“What was haunting me was did I make the right choice? What if I didn’t do this? All these ‘what ifs?’ It caused me a lot of doubt and a lot of pain.”
Mise’l Paul is described as a fun-loving, caring and always smiling little boy. His uncle, Clifford Paul, remembers the young boy always loved picking flowers for his mother. After Mise’l’s first day at a new school, the little boy was excited to see his mom and bolted to her. He was struck by a pickup truck.
After a week on life support, the doctors explained to his father his brain functions were diminishing, and Danny Paul had to grapple with the decision. After agonizing for hours, Paul made the decision to take his son off life support.
“That decision has haunted me for the last 23 years,” said Paul.
He had saved up $15,000 before his son’s tragic death and after laying him to rest, Paul spiralled. In a matter of months Paul spent all his savings on alcohol and drugs.
Then one day, Paul prayed for help and he remembered his great-grandmother, Margaret Marshall, the woman who helped raise him. He thought of her and her tobacco pipe and he’s been sober for 23 years. Now, he’s a pipe carrier, a lodge-keeper and a traditional knowledge keeper, and he credits his wife, Karen Rushton-Paul for being his rock.
“I’ve been dealing with PTSD most of my life, I would do things to distract my brain. If I have a heart to heart with her, I’m back to earth,” said Paul.
“It's a tragic accident but when I think back to that little boy,
I only see a smiling happy little boy who left us too early."
Paul is an Indian day school survivor and says the experience left him traumatized. Paul was also a Sixties Scoop survivor and heroically avoided going to the residential school.
“They came to get me for residential school, the Indian agent and the police officer, but I laid down in the couch,” said Paul.
He watched as they questioned his great-grandmother and searched the grounds for him, he was only a foot away from them. Paul says he still relives that trauma, but his wife and the L’nu ways help keep him grounded.
Clifford Paul, Danny's younger brother, has always looked up to his older sibling. He views him as a young elder and a beloved mentor. Danny taught him how to gather berries and medicines, how to spear salmon and hunt for moose and taught him how to craft his own bow and arrows and make a fishing rod.
“The things that I pass on to my grandkids it all started with Danny,” said the 56-year-old.
And Clifford knows Danny teachings came from beloved elders. Danny said when he was a kid the whole community would watch the children play and many elders took a liking to Danny and would teach him. Especially their great-grandmother Margaret Marshall, Danny would help load her tobacco pipe for and help her with other tasks, and the time he spent with the 90-year-old, she was always teaching him.
“Her teachings were very strong, she was a really powerful woman,” said Clifford Paul.
He knows that’s what kept his brother grounded during his depression. Clifford Paul remembers his brother asking him to keep his guns and spears safe while he battled out of the dark place. He says that’s the mark of a true warrior knowing when to lay down their tools as they take on another battle.
He believes his brother may never get over it, but he has seen him healing. And he knows Karen, Danny’s wife has meant a lot to Danny.
The death of Mise’l devastated the entire family but Clifford believes it brought the family closer together.
“It's a tragic accident but when I think back to that little boy, I only see a smiling happy little boy who left us too early,” said Clifford Paul.
“He lives on in all of us."
The family planted a blue spruce by Mise’l’s grave and held hockey tournaments in his honour. And Clifford Paul believes if he and his brother continue to live and teach the L’nu way they’ll always honour his nephew.
“He lives on in all of us,” said Clifford Paul.
Danny Paul is now retired after spending 40 years as a carpenter, now he’s focused on social justice efforts. He recently demanded the city change the street signs of Cornwallis and worked on the Donald Marshall Jr. Inquiry. Danny Paul also took part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report, Paul remembers when Michelle Ginnish was murdered in 2004 and whom Paul thought of as a daughter. Now, Paul is continuing to fight for L’nu equality in the judicial system.
“The justice system has been a failure for us,” said Paul.
Oscar Baker III is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.