The Indians of Madawaska
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For a long time after Bishop Saint-Vallier’s visit, the Indians remained sole masters of the Upper St. John Valley. But if the Canadians and the Acadians did not contest their exclusive right to the land they did, on occasion, question the Indians’ exclusive claim to hunt and fish, in the area. This displeased the Indians. For example, in 1764 two chiefs of the St. John River, Pierre Tomah and Ambroise St-Aubin, complained to the authorities in Quebec, that the Canadians of Kamouraska (the county were my in-laws were born) were taking their beavers away. Their petition stresses; “From time immemorial, beaver hunting has been forbidden to the French from Grand Falls (New Brunswick)…my home town, to Lake Temiscouta (Quebec). This hunt has been reserved for the Indians”. Their complaint was deemed legitimate, because the government issued an ordinance forbidding Canadians from hunting in the territory (Quebec Gazette, January 24, 1765). Later, the Indians carried the same complaint to the governors of Halifax.
During the American Revolution, in 1776, three hundred MALECITES who sympathized with the rebels, went to Aukupag to meet Colonel John Allen of Machias, Maine to discuss an offensive alliance against England. Among the delegates from Madawaska, were the chief, Francois-Xavier, his Lieutenant Grand-Pierre, Pierre-Michelle Shawigenet and Arganouet Washington. The latter had taken-on the name of the American General, to show his sympathy for the revolutionaries.
By his tempestuous harangues and perhaps more so with his gifts, Colonel Allen persuaded most of the Indians of the St. John Valley, to renounce their British alliance and join the Confederates. After this conference, the Indians sent a declaration of war to Major Studholme, commander of Fort Howe, St. John, New Brunswick.
The situation was becoming thorny for the English of the St. John Valley. The defection of the Indians, could complicate the war considerably and bring about disaster. In an effort to urge them to be faithful to the British crown, a convocation of all Indians of the province, MALECITES included, was called at St. John. It was presided jointly by Major Studholme and Father Joseph-Mathurin Bourg. Father Bourg, the first Acadian priest, resided at St. Joseph of Carleton, Baie des Chaleurs. He was the only Catholic missionary tolerated by the governors of Halifax, north of the Bay of Fundy.
At the meeting, the missionary had to surmount many obstacles. Fortunately, his devotedness and loyalty were well-known to the English, as well as to the Indians and it was only after much negotiation with chief Pierre Tomah, that the priest was allowed to be heard. In the middle of a tempestuous session when any understanding seemed impossible, the chief suddenly withdrew to the banks of the river, to meditate. There, prostrate on the ground, he prayed for an hour. With an enigmatic air, he came back to the council, carrying the message of the Great Spirit; “Peace with the English and with the revolutionaries”.
The MALECITE of the Madawaska River however, remained on the alert throughout the Revolutionary War. They had little or no attachment to the British crown, and they often expressed in typical Indian fashion, on insignificant events, all the contempt they held for the governor of Halifax and later, that of Fredericton.
Thus, in 1783 a messenger of Haldimand, Governor of Quebec, a man named Dufour and a Loyalist, Archibald McNeil, were assassinated on their way to Halifax. It was carried out by Charles Nichau Noiste and Francis Harguenion, two Indians from Fort Madawaska. The authorities from Quebec had the assassins arrested. A delegation composed of Francois-Xavier, Grand-Pierre and eight other high-ranking members of the tribe, went to the trial in Quebec. It opened in August 1784 and was presided over by Governor Haldimand himself and a judge of the Supreme Court. Francois-Xavier, in his capacity of chief, spoke first. After a profuse greeting to the governor, he continued:
“Twenty-six springs ago (since the takeover of Fort St. John by Moncton, in 1758) we have followed your ways. During that time, we have our village clean. But now a young man, a bad MALECITE, has thrown a bloody branch into it. We have handed him over to your authority, so that the great chief of the English, may do with him as he judges appropriate”.
According to Chief Francois-Xavier, Charles Nichau Noiste was the only guilty one. The chief asked on behalf of the tribe, that Harguenion be freed because, he said:
“I do not believe he is guilty. In my capacity as chief, I promise to bring him back if you should find some proof of his guilt”.
Then turning to the governor, he added:
“The pale faces, of whom you are the chief, are responsible for this crime. In the future, see to it that no one brings fire water into my territory; it is the cause of all our misfortunes”.
Harguenion was freed and relations between the Indians and the authorities of Quebec improved. Noiste was convicted and executed in Quebec.
Father Bourg was a great influence in seeing that the Indians obeyed the laws. He had even thought of establishing schools in the tribe, “where the dispersed Indians could meet; where good teachers could teach the young people to read and write, and thus form happy citizens useful to society”. But the project never materialized.
The first missionaries to serve the Indians of Madawaska on a regular basis, were Father Leclerc and Paquet from Isle-Verte, Quebec. The Indians thought highly of Father Leclerc. They express their feelings about him in a petition to the Governor of New Brunswick, complaining that, “Governor Hope of Quebec was not giving prompt attention to the fact that an Indian, Pierre Benoit, had been killed by the English, in the Fredericton area”. The Indians, wanting retribution, were becoming menacing. It was then that Governor Hope wrote the following letter to Father Leclerc:
Quebec, July 8, 1786
The letter that you wrote to me on the 28th of last month, was given to me yesterday, by the MALECITES.
Like you, I am convinced of the good that could be done in the present circumstances, if a missionary could take up residence with the Indians. I have, therefore, addressed myself on this subject, to the Vicar-General. His answer prompts me to beg you to spend all your energy in keeping them happy and maintaining them, in the right way. In the matter of the recent murder of one of their loyalists, they must not doubt that justice will be done, if they carry their complaint to the Governor of New Brunswick. In the meantime, I hope your efforts will succeed in preventing them from perpetrating violence, upon the messengers and travelers.
When Governor Carleton arrives, I shall present him with the petition that the Indians have addressed to me and which they say, is founded on the promises of the Church. And when the boundaries of both provinces are established, their request will receive all the attention it deserves.”
Father Leclerc, who knew thoroughly the MALECITE character, did not have any trouble keeping them within the law. They even begged the Governor to allow the zealous missionary, to take up residence among them.
In a letter dated July 9, 1789 the secretary of New Brunswick, Jonathan Odell, wrote to Father Leclerc:
“At the request of His Excellency, I have the honor to write to you to inform you that the Indians of the St. John River, have expressed the desire to settle in a convenient place, provided that they have the direction of a Pastor. And since they requested that we ask you, before all others, His Excellency has promised them that, if you would take the responsibility of instructing them, you would be paid in a suitable manner by the Evangelical Society whose aim is the civilization of the Indians of this province. If you accept this proposition, you will do me the honor of writing to me to inform His Excellency and the Society of your conditions, to give these poor people the attention they desire”.
Bishop Hubert informed of the desire of the governors, asked Father Leclerc to give all his attentions to the MALECITES and to cooperate with the authorities of New Brunswick, who were becoming more tolerant of the Catholics.
Perhaps no missionary of the time, has had more influence on the Indians, than Father Ciquart. He was a Sulpician, exiled from France by the revolution. Before coming to the Madoueskak, he had spent many years in the missions of the Kennebec. Speaking of the MALECITES, he wrote to his Bishop: “They are literally little children, but well-behaved. I think, in the future, they will be obedient and submissive. They have well-behaved in the short time that I have been their Father. They love me and I am attached to them. I will not leave them without shedding many tears”.
One day Father Ciquart received presents from the governor to distribute to the Indians of Madawaska. To these, he added an illustrated book of missions which he gave to the new chief, Grand-Pierre. Wanting to know what impression the book had made, the priest questioned the chief. At first there was no answer. The chief kept looking at the pictures, with dreamy expression. Then his expression turned to one of sorrow. “Great Father”, he said, “this reminds me of an old saying: When you give something to a Mohawk, he has a lot of tongue but no heart. Today, in receiving this beautiful book, Grand-Pierre has a lot of heart, but no tongue”!
Grand-Pierre presided over the Madawaska village for a long time. But toward the end of his life, his subjects abandoned him. Disappointed by so much ingratitude, he was unable to bear such abandonment. He renounced his jurisdiction and ended his days with the first Acadian colonists, where he remained greatly respected until his death. His grave is three or four acres from the St. John River, about a mile below the church of St. Basile. This field, is still known as the “flat of Grand-Pierre”.
Grand-Pierre’s successor, was Louis Shaougenet known also as, Bernard. He was the grandfather of John-Shawiche Bernard, who died in 1918, at the age of 90.
When Bishop Denault came for the first Confirmation in Madawaska in 1803, fifty-eight Indians received the Sacrament. From that date, the population of the village diminished rapidly. In 1812, Bishop Plessis found only two huts at the mouth of the Madawaska River. At certain times of the year, the wigwams were completely deserted. For example in 1826, a year of great famine for them, they spent the winter encamped at the door of the church of St. Basile, where charitable colonists fed them. The following winter, they went down to St. John, 260 miles from their village.
According to statistics, their population was two in 1834 and two in 1840. In 1850, it had gone up to thirty, and fallen to seventeen in 1860. In the 1920’s, the reservation numbered about fifty souls. This variation in population figures, is explained by their nomadic way of life.
They settled along the main road only since 1830. Before that time, they were camped along the river. Their houses are clean, well lit and comfortable. Speaking of the reservation of Edmundston, James Farrell, the Federal Indian agent writes: “They are peaceful citizens, respectful of authority, honest, hospitable and charitable. Because of their diminished population, the Indians of Madawaska have lost their right to a political chief, but they have a duly elected leader, who serves as lieutenant to the chief of Tobic, who is chief of the tribe. They remain in the patriarchal era. Every year, according to a long-established custom, they go to Tobic to pay homage to their great chief. This deferential visit, usually occurs around the feast of Corpus Christi, their paternal feast.”
The procession of the Blessed Sacrament, has always had a particular attraction for them. The Holy Parade, as they called it, never failed to draw all the inhabitants of the village, to St. Basile. They came decorated with brilliant stars of various colors, armed with spurs and muskets, as for a military parade. The Elevation was greeted with a volley of gunfire, then they entoned the “O Salutaris Hostia”, in their own language. The rest of the day was given over to patriotic rejoicings, where Bacchus was too often the “saint” of the afternoon and the object of the wrath of the pastor of St. Basile.
Father Bourg’s dream of the 1800’s, has finally been realized. The Indians have their own school, paid for by the government of Ottawa!
The descendants of the MALECITE does not take readily to cultivating the soil. He has a nostalgia for the forests and does not shine in the sun of civilization. His family decreases, even though his morals are honest and his physical and mental qualities, are not inferior to those of the races that surround him. Strange anomaly: he despises agriculture “the lowly art of peace”. He dares not add “The lowly art of the conqueror”. The hand that has brandished the tomahawk, is not made to guide the plow. The hand that has pulled-off the scalp of theMOHAWK, does not stoop to pull vegetables”. Those words of the great-grandson of Grand-Pierre, depicts the wounded pride of the ancient warrior race. Cincinnatus in reverse, theMALECITE despises the fields that the great Roman loved to cultivate, between battles.
His impatience with things of peace and, fundamentally, his hatred of the white race, will always leave him hostile to a civilization that has dispossessed him; a civilization that has erected a wall between the two races, from where mourns the wounded ego of vanquished ancestors. Like Achilles, he withdraws into the shadows of the last oaks of the forest primeval, and with a haughty air, awaits the death of the race!
Re-print from “The History of Madawaska” with copyright permission from the Madawaska Historical Society.