The Evening Telegram - IN FOCUS
by JEAN EDWARDS STACEY, Sept 23, 2000
to Newfoundland's south coast would not be complete without a visit
to the community of Conne River. Newfoundland's only Mi'kmaq Indian
reserve is located at the mouth of Conne River, on the south shore of
the arm of Bay d'Espoir. It is an excellent place for salmon fishing,
and provides ready access to the interior of the island.
Mi'kmaq established permanent settlement at Conne River in the late
census of 1869, it was reported that there were "80 Indians at
Conne River and five whites married to and resident among them."
the Mi'kmaq of Conne River were recognized as part of Canada's First
Nations and granted status under the Indian Act.
people of Conne River call themselves Miawpukek Mi'kmaq.
word Miawpukek means "middle river place," which is how they
refer to their community.
by road since the early 1970s, Conne River is a modern community with
a population of 800. The community appears prosperous. Cars, snowmobiles
and ATVs are much in evidence. Modern homes are built along the main
road or on lanes off it.
to residents, the town has expanded a lot in the last 10 to 15 years.
start of the community, the road goes past a large complex which contains
the band office, the office of the tribal police and a retail craft
shop, Micmac Crafts, where native-made goods are made and sold.
our visit, more than a dozen women were busy making products that included
moccasins, jackets, purses, dresses, jewelry and glass dream catchers.
Orders come from across Canada and the U.S.
John, sister of band chief Misel Joe, is one of at least 25 women who
produce Mi'kmaq crafts. John has made dozens of items with soft, buttery
yellow deer hide, including jackets for her brother. We watched as she
completed a shoulder bag.
Amelia Joe building next door is a combination medical and social services
centre, which is named after Laura and Misel's grandmother, a well-known
Anne's Roman Catholic Church is not far from the Amelia Joe building.
the church, on a boggy hill filled with wild flowers, there's a graveyard
with headstones that bear the names John, Quann, Jeddore, Stride, Joe
are a number of elaborate marble headstones, but most of the graves
are marked by wooden crosses, which say simply "Rest in Peace."
There's something very moving about the rows of plain, white crosses
with their hand-written messages.
Joe says this graveyard, no longer used, is one of at least four in
the community. He says trees are often planted in lieu of headstones
in memory of loved ones.
notes as well that while most Conne River residents are Catholics, few
practise their religion. Some, like him, call themselves traditionalists
and practise a way of life that includes sunrise, sweet grass and sweat
road through Conne River continues on for about one kilometre. It's
a pretty road, lined with trees, that follows the river until it ends
at a cove circled by a rocky beach. The communities of Milltown and
can be glimpsed across the water. St. Alban's is further to the left.
Molly McDonald lives in a modern, green bungalow not far from the rocky
beach. A widow, she lives near two of her children.
is Laura and Misel Joe's aunt. Her father was Andrew Joe, a native of
Conne River. Her mother was Amelia Benoit from Gaultois. Her parents
met when her mother was working keeping house in St. Alban's.
grew up in a family of seven boys and three girls.
she married Alban McDonald, a Conne River native whose grandmother was
from England. The couple had a family of nine children, eight of whom
still live in Conne River.
who died in 1990, made a living as a logger and doing construction work.
Molly worked as a janitor in the school in Conne River.
days, Molly shares her home with two cats and one dog. The grandmother
of 13, and great-grandmother of 10, likes to knit and play bingo that's
broadcast on closed-circuit television. She's an avid dart player. A
clock she won playing darts holds a place of honour on the bookcase
in her living room. Molly also enjoys watching television.
watch Jerry Springer," she laughs, "and I like Who Wants To
Be A Millionaire? I don't watch soaps."
has always lived in Conne River and says she's never had a desire to
and Misel are two of eight children born to Molly's brother, Noel, and
his wife, Catherine. Misel is the third child and first son.
brother, William - known as Billy Joe - was band chief from 1975 to
1982. At that time, the central Mi'kmaq leader was a traditional chief
who was elected for life.
band member Marilyn John instigated a system in which a community chief
and council are elected every two years. Community affairs are operated
by directors who report to council.
herself was the first chief elected under the new system. She was followed
by Shane McDonald, Geraldine Kelly and Misel Joe, who is currently in
his seventh year of office. Joe is also the traditional chief, an
honorary, non-political position he inherited from his uncle, Billy
Joe used to be called Michael Joe, and his people were known as Micmacs.
of years ago, however, fellow natives in Nova Scotia discovered that
the correct Indian name is Mi'kmaq; that Michael is Misel, and that
a chief is a saqamaw.
is now referred to as Mi'kmaq saqamaw Misel Joe.
name change sometimes leads to some good-natured ribbing. Asked what
she calls the chief, his sister laughs.
call him Mike," John grins, "and I won't tell you what else
I call him."
call him Mike and sometimes Mickey," replies his aunt, Molly, when
asked the same question.
Mi'kmaq homeland was traditionally divided into seven hunting districts,
each with its own chief. An eighth district - Taqanok, or southern Newfoundland
- was added in 1860. The way Misel Joe tells it, his people
have lived in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec,
parts of the United States, and the island portion of Newfoundland for
thousands of years.
to Joe, the original Mi'kmaq population was about 100,000. Other estimates
put it at about 30,000. Over the years, the numbers of Mi'kmaq declined
as a result of epidemics, disease and wars. For years, the French, the
Mi'kmaq's allies, and the English waged bitter wars as they fought for
control of North America. The wars took their toll. In 1760, the Mi'kmaq
numbered about 3,000.
Mi'kmaq have been at peace since 1779. Treaties signed during the early
1800s established reserves, which the Mi'kmaq still occupy in the Maritimes
and in Conne River. Canada currently lists more than 16,000 registered
the 1870s, the community of Conne River had a mixed population that
showed increasing signs of permanent Mi'kmaq settlement, strengthened
by ties of intermarriage, religion and economy with Europeans. Joe says
the Mi'kmaq's mixed ancestry even includes Newfoundland's extinct Beothuks.
Beothuks are gone as a people, but they live on in the Mi'kmaq people
through intermarriage," he says.
the settlement of Conne River was reported to have 23 families numbering
131 people who made a living hunting and trapping.
1920s and 1930s, Bay d'Espoir was an important logging area and Conne
River had become a settlement of loggers. Following the Second World
War, Conne River residents became increasingly dependent on work outside
the community. After contract logging with Bowaters ended in 1957, hydroelectric
developments of the Bay d'Espoir area provided employment in construction.
When construction-related jobs ceased, government grants, unemployment
insurance and social assistance were the main sources of income.
all the years," Joe emphasizes, "people lived off the land,
as well. Trapping, hunting and fishing have always been part of our
Conne River was declared an Indian community under a provincial agreement
in which Ottawa agreed to reimburse the province of Newfoundland for
90 per cent of monies spent on Indian reserves. At that time, a band
council was formed with John Jeddore as the first president, and Conne
River Native Enterprises was established to spearhead economic development
on the new reserve.
1985 recognition of Conne River's Mi'kmaq as status Indians who are
part of Canada's First Nations has meant a yearly infusion of somewhere
between $10-$15 million from the federal Department of Indian Affairs.
As well, goods delivered to the reserve, including cigarettes and gas,
are sold tax-free to band members. Joe admits that at this point, Conne
River wouldn't be able to make it without help from Ottawa.
the Conne River reserve was extended by 3.2 kilometres. It's now an
area 6.4 km long and 1.2 km wide.
about further land claims, Joe says that according to an ongoing study,
which is tied to traditional land use for hunting, fishing and trapping,
approximately 16 per cent of the total land mass on the island portion
of Newfoundland should be in the hands of the Mi'kmaq.