This writing was inspired from the teachings passed down to me by my late Grandfather Louis Sappier (Matehc) and the late Elder Dan Ennis.
i recall many times sitting in ceremony with the late Elder Dan Ennis, who was one of the key citizens in our Wolastoqey Nation to revive our Traditional Grand Council. Elder Dan always began His gratitude prayer in ceremony by saying, “I am Wolastoq and Wolastoq is me”. i have pondered for many years striving to comprehend what Elder Dan actually intended for us to learn and to find out exactly what “Wolastoq nil” (Wolastoq is me) meant and what our responsibilities are as Wolastoqiyik (People of the Beautiful and Bountiful River). As i conscientiously do ceremony every morning when my feet first touch the floor and every night before i lay my head on my pillow, i offer sincere gratitude to every living entity from the center core of our Mother Earth to Her abundant surface and in all 4 cardinal directions, where our Ancestors maintain spiritual wisdoms, and to the above world, where our Grandmother Moon, Grandfather Sun, and our Eldest Sister and Brother Stars and Father Sky unite in harmony to teach us how to live in balance.
In the past few years when i have been in ceremony our Ancestors have revealed to me a clear insight that Wolastoq was our Nation’s main vein that provided food for our people. At one time, Salmon was our main source of nourishment, and it had enriched, nutritious value that kept our people extremely healthy. Our people depended totally on the migration of Salmon every spring. i recollect one time in early spring when i was a child in the early ‘60s, i visited my Grandfather Louis Sappier who lived on the banks of Neqot (Tobique River), which flowed into nearby Wolastoq (St. John River). He took me by the hand and walked closer to the banks of Neqot and pointed across the river where Neqot and Wolastoq merged and said, “That is where I used to pick all my medicine.” He went on by saying, “There was a time in the spring when Salmon would come up river to spawn and you’d hear them before you’d see them; it sounded like a freight train coming up river, you could actually walk on their backs, there were that many Salmon.” i was so astonished just trying to imagine Wolastoq full of that many Salmon. i looked up to ask Him what happened to the Salmon; i couldn’t get my words out of my mouth fast enough when He said, “Then those damn dams were built.” As i gazed up at His beautiful wrinkled face my strong and fearless Grandfather had tears flowing down His cheeks. That was the first time i saw Him cry.
Combining the wise teachings of Elder Dan and my Grandfather about Wolastoq, i realize why the colonial governments pushed to construct all those “Damn Dams” on Wolastoq and one on Neqot. The government and industry knew that Wolastoq was our everything, our highway, our food supply, our main source of life. This is the reason why they dammed up Wolastoq – in order to eliminate their greatest hindrance, Wolastoqiyik, us, People of the Beautiful and Bountiful River. They wanted to control Wolastoq for capitalistic gain, to land-grab, and to control all resources for greed and profit.
Today, our people, Wolastoqiyik, don’t have the opportunity to fish fresh Salmon or collect pure medicine or food that has not been poisoned from toxic chemicals and sprays used by industry and government. They achieved their objectives by herding our people onto postage-stamp-sized lands and controlling all of our activities by creating colonial policies and enforcing the genocidal policy called the “Indian Act.”
Unfortunately, many of our people have forgotten the time when Salmon swam freely, when medicine and food grew in abundance on the banks of Wolastoq and when Wolastoq flowed without restraint. The dams are like bad cholesterol clogging the arteries of Wolastoq. At one time Wolastoq surged freely to the Ocean and back and now Wolastoq is prohibited to drift freely because of those “Damn Dams.”
Just as the United States and Canadian governments nearly killed off all the Buffalo on the plains in order to exterminate our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers in the south-west, let us not forget that the same government and industries destroyed the natural flow of Wolastoq and the habitats of Salmon by attempting to terminate our existence as Wolastoqiyik – People of the Beautiful and Bountiful River.
Wolastoqiyik – Let Us Never Forget!
“Wolastoq nilun naka Nilun Wolastoq – The Beautiful and Bountiful River is Us and We are the Beautiful and Bountiful River.”
Wolastoqewi Kci-Sakom spasaqsit possesom – Ron Tremblay (Wolastoq Grand Chief – morningstar burning)
Kahkakuhsuwakutom naka Malsomuwakutom – (Crow & Wolf Clan)
Wolastoq Nil naka Nil Wolastoq – i am Wolastoq and Wolastoq is me
[Editor’s note: This article was published in keeping with the author’s preferred usage of capital letters.]