Movement toward federal recognition of the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Canada is quickening in pace, as the Peskotomuhkati, as the band in Canada is now known, are currently in negotiations with the government over defining their rights, including fishing rights, had a special moose harvest this year and are in the process of acquiring a land base just outside St. Stephen. It's been a long process for the Natives, whose history in the St. Andrews area has now been dated back 13,000 years but who nearly became extinct.
Hugh Akagi, chief of the Peskotomuhkati at Schoodic, relates that included in the negotiations between the band and the federal government is the acquisition of a 2,400-acre parcel in Scotch Ridge, about 20 minutes north of St. Stephen. The property, known as Camp Cheputneticook, has a historic hunting and fishing lodge that was built around 1910, two cottages and frontage on the St. Croix River and King Brook Lake, with a majority of the acreage being old-growth forest crisscrossed with hiking and riding trails. The land is protected through a conservation trust. The lodge has a large collection of Native artifacts, and Passamaquoddys, including Joseph Moore and Horace Nicholas, were among the guides who worked there.
A nonprofit corporation, Passamaquoddy Recognition, has been formed by the chief and council so that the property can be transferred to the band. Since the band has not been officially recognized by the federal government, the nonprofit will be used as a conduit to transfer funds to the band. The asking price for the property was $895,000. "The government is making it happen so that we will purchase the land," says Akagi.
Akagi notes that the band needs a land base, and the property is "a place where we can be Native again." He adds, "I want the lodge to be a healing centre and used for sweats." He says the wooded area also can be using for healing, as "there's nothing more healing than going out into the woods." Akagi hopes that the lodge will help not just Passamaquoddys living in Canada but those dealing with substance abuse problems in Maine. "It will be a healing centre for all of us. It will be a place we can come together. That's part of my dream, to get the two cultures together."
In addition, Akagi says that the Passamaquoddys will not give up on their claim to Indian Point in St. Andrews. Referring to the government negotiators, he says, "I told them that the treaties are not negotiable and Indian Point is not negotiable." Akagi would like to see a sweat lodge established at Indian Point, too. "Indian Point has to be returned to the Passamaquoddy," he says.
"That land will have to become a centre for our people." While he does not know how the issue may be addressed and while property owners there may not necessarily be displaced, he says, "Since the town doesn't see fit to negotiate with us, we will have to find a way to lay claim to that land."
"Indian Point is the spiritual home of our people. It's where we negotiated, signed treaties, greeted people. I asked them at the town council how would you feel if I started erecting houses on your Loyalist burying ground. It got people angry. But there are two burial grounds at Indian Point." Akagi states, "What are we going to do with Indian Point? We're going to restore Native control. It should not become the playground of the rich."
Rights being negotiated
Currently the chief and council are working with government negotiators on a framework agreement for federal recognition, and Akagi, who is now 71, says they are trying "to short-circuit the process" so that recognition may be obtained within three to five years. "We've gone through the door with Canada, and now we have to define what recognition means," he explains about the Passamaquoddys' current status.
Among the areas of negotiation are the rights that the Passamaquoddys will have. Concerning the legal rights that are recognized by the courts, Akagi notes that the Supreme Court of Canada's 1999 Marshall decision upheld Native fishing rights, but he says, "We believe our rights come from the soil. We should go back to the Peace and Friendship Treaties," he says, referring to the treaties that were signed between the Wabanaki nations and the Crown in the 1700s in which the Wabanaki did not surrender any land or rights.
"Can we fix how Canada has infringed on our rights? It's a struggle," he says, noting that Natives have a right to fish for pollock and haddock, but they are no longer in the bay. They also have a right to harvest traditional medicines off the land at Indian Point, he says, since that was where they grew. "We could harvest food there; that's why we lived there. But my right to harvest my own food off our beach has been turned into an industry so they can make a fortune," says Akagi, observing that he cannot harvest clams there, but a shellfish depuration company is able to. "We'd like that right recognized, so that as a people we can feel pride in who we are."
This year the band was able to conduct a moose hunt in the province, which was done traditionally when the tribal members had access to healthy food sources. The government could give band members money to buy food, but Akagi notes that in the traditional culture food was used for social and ceremonial purposes. He says the government's attitude is: "We'll give you something to fill the gap, but that doesn't fill the gap." And he says the restoration of rights does not make sense to him, since the band's sovereignty should not be conditional on Canadian law. "Somehow we're missing out on human rights, not just aboriginal rights. How do we fix it?" he asks.
As for commercial and sustenance fishing rights, Akagi says, "They want to negotiate licensing, but I'm wary of that. We need different rules for sustenance." Fishing rights in Passamaquoddy Bay for tribal members living at Sipayik are part of the negotiations, but Akagi says, "It's not about money. We want to see quality jobs." He would like to see tribal members act more in the role of caretakers, working in science and resource management fields, which would be more beneficial to Native people than fishing or working in the aquaculture industry. "I swear, when the last fish is gone, they'll give us access to the fisheries," he notes. Akagi believes Native people should be activists to protect the earth, which doesn't mean they shouldn't benefit from the current healthy stock of lobsters. But he wants a system that, instead of making individuals and corporations rich, benefits all of the people. The emphasis, he says, should be on management and education.
Within 100 years people have mostly destroyed the fisheries, but Native people "maintained a paradise" by staying away from corporations and looking after their people and elders. The young were taught about the land, not in schools, but as they learned about the culture. Akagi says, "The key to the fishery is it needs to support our countries, our people. Individual wealth I cannot support."
Chief Akagi notes that the Peskotomuhkati at Schoodic "are all one people with the Passamaquoddy. The border is not going to divide us." The band had five reserves in New Brunswick: St. Croix, near Spednic Lake; Canoose, near Spednic Falls on the St. Croix River; Schoodic, near Magurrewock Stream on the St. Croix; Qonasqamkuk, now known as St. Andrews; and Grand Manan. Akagi says the Canadian government is looking at how the reserves were illegally removed from the Passamaquoddys, with the last two reserves, Canoose and St. Croix, having been sold or transferred by the government in the 1930s and '40s.
The traditional territory of the Passamaquoddy extends from the Penobscot River in Maine to Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, with it centered on the watershed of the Schoodic River, or the St. Croix, and Passamaquoddy Bay. Indian Point at Qonasqamkuk was the traditional home of the Passamaquoddy people and was the fire place, the place where the councils of the nation were held.
When he first approached Canada about obtaining recognition for the tribe in the 1970s he had to explain that the Passamaquoddy did not come over from Sipayik in Maine; rather, it was the other way around. "We were driven out of St. Andrews when the Loyalists took over," he says. Following the American Revolution, a group of Loyalists who arrived at St. Andrews by boat was supposed to lease the land for 25 pounds for the winter of 1783-84 and then leave, but "they never paid the 25 pounds and they never left." After the Loyalists cut down the cross in the Passamaquoddy burial ground and appropriated Passamaquoddy land, a majority of the Passamaquoddys, to avoid further conflict, moved to Indian Island, then to Birch Point and finally to Pleasant Point, or Sipayik.
As St. Andrews grew, some Passamaquoddys continued to live at Indian Point, which was considered a commons area. Akagi's mother Romona was a granddaughter of John Nicholas, who was among the Passamaquoddys who lived there and who died in 1926 at the age of 102. Romona Akagi also lived at Indian Point, and Hugh Akagi recalls that, in the early 1950s when the town came to pave on the property, she brought out her shotgun and his father erected a barricade to stop the work. She said the 100 acres at Indian Point belongs to the Passamaquoddy, and she feared the paving would lead to development of the land. She passed away in 1958, and in the 1980s the Town of St. Andrews was intent on expanding into Indian Point. "When my mother died, they took everything. They thought the Indian was dead," says Hugh Akagi. Negotiations between the town and eight Akagi heirs to acquire the land were inconclusive, and in 1989 the town took action under the province's Quieting of Titles Act. Akagi says the town ended up winning in 1990 a court case that was decided "by a Loyalist judge out of Saint John."
Concerning Indian Point, he says, "Everyone else can make money off it, but we're denied access." He says the town first placed a dump there, then a sewage lagoon "on our territory," and then leased the land for $1 to the Kiwanis Club of St. Andrews for a campground. After the lease expired in 2012, the town council, at a special meeting on November 15 this year, agreed to renew the 24-year lease, while making reference that the disputed land at Indian Point would be returned to the Passamaquoddys if federal recognition is obtained.
Akagi says that now people are "building estate homes there. There's no respect for the fact that it is the spiritual and cultural home of a people who have been dispossessed and driven out of their homes and country. That is the legacy of that land." Noting that Passamaquoddy burial grounds are on the property, he says, "The abuse of what should be recognized as ours is rampant. It was part of the design to eliminate my people, the genocide of my people."
"It's the story of my people," Akagi says. "I am the history of my people in this country. My DNA goes back 13,000 years." He relates that when the new Highway 1 was built in the late 2000s the province's Archaeological Services branch ended up finding artifacts in nearby Pennfield dating back 13,000 years, the oldest site found in the Maritimes. "It's an incredible site," he says. "They got so many artifacts out of that," including 1,400 artifacts from one small hole.
Band membership and monetary settlement
Concerning band membership, Akagi says that it can't be determined just by blood quantum. Those who have lived in the area with a past that goes back only a few hundred years don't understand what it means to be Native, he says. "Until you feel it, you haven't really experienced the territory."