Fundy National Park: Acknowledging the Territory

Fundy National Park lies between the Saint John River system and the Petitcodiac River system. There are easy inland portage routes which joined these river highways. They were extensively used by indigenous peoples who would be both Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik. The area would be included in the Peace and Friendship Treaties – unceded, signed by the Wabanaki. Many Canadians do not know what “unceded” means. When Europeans first arrived in the Maritimes Peace and Friendship Treaties were negotiated which created agreements around trade, peaceable relations and so on. These treaties did not cede land to any government of any country at any time.

 

Summer season is Pow Wow time. The public is invited to many events. It is a great time to learn and connect. WestJet Magazine had the most accessible article that I have read on Pow Wow etiquette, which is posted below. The article originates from Western Canada so bear in mind there may be other etiquette to be aware of for local Pow Wows throughout the country. In general, a good rule of thumb is don’t be a jerk. Put positively, be courteous, respectful and open to learning. It seems strange to have to say these things, but indigenous communities have to put up with an incredible amount of unintentional and intentional racism so it bears saying. If you are white and don’t know if you are racist or not, another good rule of thumb is to do a lot of listening. Not only will you will be surprised at what you will learn, you will really enjoy yourself and connect with some wonderful people.

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Elsipogtog First Nation Pow Wow (photo by NB Tourism)

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Elsipogtog First Nation PowWow (photo: NB Tourism)

The West Jet article:

https://www.westjetmagazine.com/story/article/a-guide-to-powwow-season-in-canada

A New Brunswick schedule of Pow Wows:

http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/aas-saa/pdf/POWWOW-Schedule.pdf

Gros Morne National Park: acknowledging The Territory

 

As a country, Canada is just beginning to comes to grips with its responsibilities for and debts to the indigenous peoples within her borders. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed in relentless, horrifying detail, the treatment received by indigenous peoples through first-voice testimony and historic documentation (including the government’s own 200 year-plus cache of damning documents). You can find the report at trc.ca. I was one of the United Church “listeners” in the “Church Listening Tent” during the Halifax round of TRC gatherings. Our role was to offer a place of rest, nourishment and to simply listen, if that was asked for. We also had one of three apologies that we were to read if requested. Two were United Church apologies (1986 and 1998) and the other was the apology made by the Canadian Government in 2008. When I was not doing a shift in the tent, I explored the displays and listened to testimony. I remain shaken to my core.

I liken it to the experience of the German townspeople who lived next to concentration camps during the war, who were forced to parade through the camps by the Allies so they could fully appreciate the horrors of what they chose to ignore. What grew within me during that experience was, first and foremost, a deep gratitude and appreciation for the grace and resiliency of indigenous peoples as they agree to the reconciliation journey. Also, a personal and professional commitment began to grow to support the recommendations of the final TRC report which was accepted by all political parties. First among them, is a commitment to acknowledge the Treaty status of the land we live or travel on. That is why this page is part of this blog. This particular commitment proves to be complicated in the case of Newfoundland.

First of all, Newfoundland was a British Colony until the very late date of 1949. So, her “Canadian” history is relatively new. If the story of Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples contains tragedy and horror, Newfoundland’s story is particularly awful because it involves the true extinction of a distinct people, the Beothuk. The Newfoundland government website says:

            The Beothuk were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland. They were Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers who once occupied most of the island. As a result of a complex mix of factors, the Beothuk became extinct in 1829 when  Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk, died in St. John’s.

Wikipedia is a little more detailed, stating that violent pressure from settlers and an influx of other aboriginal peoples combined with a lack of food sources, an explosion of infectious diseases and constant movement toward the interior land which could not sustain life.  Whether active and intentional genocide occurred is still greatly debated by academics. There can be no denial that there are some heartbreaking historical stories of the “hunting” of Beothuks.

The Mi’kmaw, originating from lands off island, have also traditionally travelled, hunted and gathered throughout Newfoundland island. Miawpukek is at Conne River. A community’s words about themselves are always most important and usually the most accurate. The following is an excerpt from their website (http://www.mfngov.ca/about-miawpukek/):

            Miawpukek is the traditional Mi’kmaw name for our community. “Miawpukek” is used   as the name of the community in most documents produced by Miawpukek First Nation Government. Documents produced elsewhere most often uses “Conne River”. The  name means “Middle River”.

Miawpukek became a permanent community sometime around 1822. Before 1822 it was one of many semi-permanent camping sites used by our people who were at the time still nomadic and traveling throughout our Mi’kmaq Domain of Newfoundland,  Labrador, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Maine.

Miawpukek Reserve was established according to traditional oral history in 1870. It was officially designated as Samiajij Miawpukek Indian Reserve under the Indian Act in 1987.  Most of our members, as of June 1985, are registered Indians. The ancestries of our community members include Mi’kmaq, Innu, Abenaki and European lines.

Our membership is 787 on-Reserve and 1779 off-Reserve. Our total population on Reserve as of August, 2006 is 867. (787 Native and (approx.) 80 non-Native).

Since being established as a reserve in 1987, Miawpukek has gone from a poor, isolated community with almost 90% unemployment to a strong vibrant community with nearly 100% full time/part-time employment. We are one of two of the fastest growing communities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are often pointed to by Indian and Northern Affairs as a model community for other First Nations.

We are located on the south coast of the island part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. By land we are 224 km from the nearest service center, the international airport town of Gander. Our community is accessible by land, air and water.

 

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“Wave Sound” sculpture by Anishinabe artist Rebecca Belmore

 

Forillon National Park: Acknowledging the territory

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.

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Micmaqugespeg Interpretation Centre photo:www.micmacgespeg.ca

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.

 

 

Dollar Lake: Acknowledging the Territory

Dollar Lake Provincial Park: Acknowledging the Territory

Dollar Lake Provincial Park is on on lands that are, by law, the land of the Mi’kmaq. One of the closest First Nations is near Shubenacadie.

Wikipedia states:

“The Shubenacadie Nation is composed of four Mi’kmaq First Nation reserves located in Nova Scotia. AS of 2012, the Mikmaq population is 1,195 on-Reserve and approximately 1,190 off-Reserve. The First Nation includes Indian Brook 14, Nova Scotia, near Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. The Shubenacadie Nation is now known as Sipekne’katik Band.”

Sipekne’katic is composed of Indian Brook 14, New Ross 20, Pennal 19 and Shubenacadie 13.

Nearby also is the Millbrook First Nation. You can see the Millbrook Power Centre as you head south from Truro (or north from Halifax). The Power Centre is a powerful model of self-determination. Lawrence Paul, a leader, says “The model for the Power Centre is to attract businesses who want to partner with us for long-term sustainability. We work with them to structure a jointly beneficial arrangement at the outset…and then let the company focus on running the operation – to do what they have expertise in doing.” (truropowercentre.ca)

At the Power Centre is the wonderful Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre. There you will find accurate history and a celebration of indigenous creativity, art and resilience. Tours are available. http://www.millbrookheritage.ca

If you are non-indigenous and come at a time of year when powwow is taking place take time to attend those events open to the public. These are meaning-filled celebrations of strength, history and culture. You will learn, be moved and, hopefully just a little bit transformed.