A few years ago, I was invited by two congregants to preside at their wedding at Gespe’gewa’gi First Nation reserve near New Westminster, Québec. One of the brides grew up there. The other bride, Diane who is Anishinaabe, grew up in Newfoundland. The wedding designed by the couple was a weaving of Christian and indigenous spirituality. It took place on community sacred grounds. At the time pictures of the hunters who provide meat for the community had been posted around the circle. I was very moved by the gaze of these elders as the women spoke their words of love and commitment to each another, the gathered community, the earth and God. They were and are a beautiful couple. It was a striking wedding celebrated in the midst of a loving community. I will never forget the gracious welcome we received. As Carl and I moved through the community I was struck by spiritual, social and commercial vitality. I mentioned this to Diane who told me that the reserve was not as affected by the residential school system as other reserves were. They still had to endure centuries of racist and colonialist policy and colonizing, violent, day schools, but the devastation of the residential school trauma did not reach as deeply here.
For me, this wedding was one of the most deeply spiritual experiences of ministry. The warmth of the community and the beauty of the land made Carl and I determined to come back to explore the Gaspé. And so, we did.
Take time to visit the Micmac Interpretation Site of Gespeg when you camp at Forillon National Park. It is a fascinating education centre.There are often interactive activities. Their excellent website describes several options for immersive experiential activities (http://www.micmacgespeg.ca). If only we had had more time…. Although the woman who managed the information centre and gift shop had limited English and my French is worse, we managed to communicate enough for me to be able to pick up some printed resources. I was unable to determine whether the territory is ceded or unceded. One of the resources I picked up, A Journey Back in the History of Gaspé (Corporation Berceau du Canada: 2010) states:
The first humans to occupy the territory were the ancestors of the Micmacs (!) more than 8000 years ago. These nomads lived according to the available food resources, fishing in summer and following game in the winter. A seafaring people, the Micmacs knew the territory and its many rivers very well. We owe them for the name ‘Gaspé’, the name which the Europeans adopted on their arrival. “Gespeg” in the Micmac language means ‘the end of the land.’
The St. Lawrence Iroquoians arrived several hundred years later. A nomadic people, they were attracted by the abundant resources. In the 16th centre, these Iroquoians matched their trips to the peninsula with the arrival of the European ships, with whom they regularly traded.
The Park is situated on in un-ceded Mi’qmak land.
Forillon National Park has a shadow side. One of my colleagues who has worked in the Gaspé told me that the land was expropriated from people in order to create the Park, some of whom were indigenous. All were given a pittance in compensation. In 2011, the Government of Canada formally apologized. However, my colleague noted, no money was forthcoming.
Forillon National Park recently received some money from the Federal government which is earmarked to help the Park tell the stories of the Mi’kmaq people with some integrity. We can only hope.