Ramona Nicholas, a Wolastoqewi grandmother, and other Wolastoqewi grandmothers and members of the Wolastoqewi Grand Council are occupying Fredericton’s Officer’s Square to protect ancestral artefacts recently found on the site. They want the artefacts returned to the Wolastoqiyik.
The artefacts found during excavation to revamp the square date back before Europeans settled the area. According to the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, Indigenous civilization in the area dates back 2,300 years.
“On September 15, 2020, a ceremony was conducted at Officer’s Square to honour and show respect to our Wolastoqewi ancestors that are being impacted by development,” said Nicholas.
“There has been some contention with Archaeological Services with the present work being conducted within Wolastokuk. Officer’s Square has been a center of controversy. Recently, Indigenous artifacts were discovered, as well as an ancient shoreline. In my opinion, as an Indigenous archaeologist, this is a significant find.”
According to the Wolastoqewi Grandmothers and Grand Council, the work at Officer’s Square violates the spirit of Peace and Friendship treaties because the work has failed to properly consult according to Wolastoqiyik natural laws.
The territory of Wolastokuk that includes the city of Fredericton was never surrendered and is legally still under a series of treaties that clearly state a “Peace and Friendship” relationship between settlers and the Wolastoqiyik.
“Despite these treaties, the settlers deemed themselves to be the ones who govern and created policies and laws with no consideration for the original inhabitants or their laws,” said Ron Tremblay, Wolastoqeyi Grand Chief.
Tremblay stated that the provincial and municipal governments again have broken their legal duty to uphold the treaties and the Wolastoqi will assert the stewardship of their ancestral artefacts as a way to take ownership of their past.
“There are now many in Wolastokuk who have the knowledge, skills and training to care for the objects and places of Wolastoqewi ancestors. They understand the respect and care that are due to these objects and places,” said Nicholas.
Tremblay added that archaeological activities on Wolastakuk have been done according to colonial laws and policies.
As an example, the NB Heritage Conservation Act, Section 5(3)(a)(b), states that “any such objects determined to be of Aboriginal origin are specifically ‘held in trust’ on behalf of First Nations people and their communities.”
Section 6 of the same Act (Section 6) allows the entering into agreements with persons respecting custody of archaeological objects (Section 7(1)(2)).
Wolastoqey leaders are demanding the commencement of procedures for such transfer and custody.
“We are protecting our ancestors at Office’s Square. We seek recognition of the violation of our treaties. We will give voice to our Wolastoqey history of our homeland,” said Tremblay.
“We, Wolastoqiyik, have survived many attempts of extermination by the state and its subjects. We are ever-so grateful that our Wolastoqewi ancestors demonstrated resilience and the will to survive whatever the colonial powers bestowed on them. To honour our Wolastoqewi ancestors, we demand the protection of what they left behind for us, their grandchildren, great grandchildren and the next seven generations.”
Data Brainanta is a permaculturist-in-training with an interest in politics.