In October, treaty people on the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik organized a series of actions in defence of the Peace and Friendship Treaties as racism and government actions continue to harm Indigenous peoples.
Racist attacks on Mi’kmaw lobster fishers, New Brunswick’s ongoing practice of penalizing Wolastoqey loggers for cutting wood on Crown land, and the city of Fredericton excavating a site of archaeological importance to the Wolastoqey are just some of the actions violating the spirit of the Peace and Friendship treaties, say Mi’kmaw and Wolastoqey land defenders and allies.
Last Tuesday, October 27, when some workers came briefly to work on the excavation site, Charles Bryant, a lawyer representing the Wolastoqey grandmothers, called the City of Fredericton to ensure that no Indigenous artefacts were removed from Officer’s Square and that the inherent and treaty rights of the grandmothers were respected.
“Essentially, there was a concern that the artefacts were not being, or would not be, properly respected and there had not been any consultation,” said Bryant.
“The Grandmothers’ position is that the treaties require good faith engagement and the Wolastoqiyik must have an active role in the ongoing preservation of their culture. They possess the professional and cultural ability to proceed as the lead in archaeological matters in their territory.”
The Wolastoqey grandmothers say that in Officer’s Square are their ancestor’s artefacts that they wish to protect.
Beverly Perley is one of the Wolastoqey grandmothers occupying Officer’s Square. She has kept a sacred fire lit there for almost two months. She has received support from community allies, but no one from the City of Fredericton has come to her for a dialogue to address her concerns.
“One of the people who came here to see me said the city will think this is city land and it is prohibited to have a fire. I told her that this is not city land and that it is not just a fire,” she said referring to the area as unceded territory and the fire as ceremonial sacred fire.
“We are here to protect our ancestors,” said Perley.
Allies have been paying visits to Perley, donating food, firewood, straw bales, compost toilet and have started a fundraiser that has purchased a camper for her to stay in as it gets colder. Allies are currently trying to find a stove for the encampment.
Next to the sacred fire is a sweat lodge made with young birch branches, adorned with colourful ceremonial ribbons.
On October 1, a full moon ceremony held at Officer’s Square was attended by close to 200 people. The sounds of drum beats and Wolastoqiyik songs filled downtown Fredericton, replacing the usual sounds of passing cars and people coming in and out of bars.
Three days later, on October 4, a vigil to commemorate the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was held in front of the museum at Officer’s Square along with traditional songs and dance.
“People should see that we are not just casinos, drugs and alcohol, but this beautiful culture and traditions that are respectful and loving to Mother Earth,” said Perley.
On October 22, close to 200 people gathered in solidarity with the Mi’kmaw lobster fishers in Nova Scotia at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton.
The rally was part of a national week of actions being taken in solidarity with the Mi’kmaw lobster fishers who are facing racist attacks from non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
Wolastoqewi Grand Chief Ron Tremblay (spasaqsit possesom – morningstar burning) said that a limit needs to be put on the big fishing companies, not the Indigenous people. “We have been doing a better job of conservation than them and we have done that for thousands of years because land and water is our kin,” he said.
Tremblay stated his support for Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack and Sipekne’katik fishers to fish according to their hereditary, collective and individual rights.
Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin echoed Tremblay’s words.
“Imposing a moderate livelihood on a sovereign nation is unconstitutional,” she said.
Husoni Raymond with Black Lives Matter (BLM) Fredericton gave a short speech at the end to support Indigenous sovereignty saying it is closely interconnected to Black liberation.
On October 24 at a rally in support of Mi’kmaw fishers at Saint John City Hall, Aaliyah Hogan with Black Lives Matter Saint John said: “It is the role of every Canadian to help break the painful generational cycle of abuse inflicted on Indigenous people.”
The solidarity rally in Saint John was organized by the Eastern Circle, FLIP Saint John, Leap4Wards and Black Lives Matter Saint John.
“In 1872 we saw thousands upon thousands of buffaloes killed because the mindset of ‘for every buffalo killed is an Indian gone’, and here we are in 2020, 148 years later and history is repeating itself,” said Mykayla Spinney, a co-founder of Eastern Circle.
“Buffalo were hunted in order to sustain life and feed First Nations, just like lobster does now. This is not about making money and profiting and it never was, this is about livelihoods and feeding communities. No more sitting by, talking and watching history repeats itself. It’s time we, as a community, come together – native and allies – and do something,” she said.
The Saint John rally ended with a one-kilometre walk to the Wolastoq (Saint John River) estuary where Ramona Nicholas, a Wolastoqey knowledge keeper, led a water ceremony to send prayers and support to the Sipenek’katik lobster fishers.
David Bedford, a retired professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick, will be speaking about the Marshall Decision Two Decades Later: Emancipation as Oppression on November 19 at 7:00pm (Atlantic time) by Zoom. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.
Data Brainata is a permaculturist-in-training with an interest in politics.