New Brunswick

The Passamaquoddy people could be close to gaining recognition in Canada

The Passamaquoddy people in New Brunswick are getting closer to gaining formal recognition as a First Nation from the federal and provincial governments.

After two years of talks, recognition for the First Nation - now known as Peskotomuhkati - could be close

A Passamaquoddy encampment. The First Nation's traditional territory spanned both sides of the International border along the St Croix River valley. (Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik)

The Passamaquoddy people in New Brunswick are getting closer to gaining formal recognition as a First Nation from the federal and provincial governments.

The First Nation group - now known as the Peskotomuhkati - is two years into talks with negotiators from Ottawa and Fredericton.

A key issue is where Peskotomuhkati people on the U.S. side of the border fit into the picture.

"The relations and the treaty as far as this [First] Nation are concerned are with the entire nation and the Crown, not just people on the Canadian side," said Peskotomuhkati lead negotiator, Paul Williams.

The First Nation has been seeking recognition for many decades.

There are about 350 members in New Brunswick and another 3000 in two communities in Maine. 

Paul Williams is lead negotiator for the Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) First Nation. (Paul Williams, submitted)

The three sides have been meeting roughly once a month for the past two years in what Williams describes as comprehensive and complex negotiations.

"The first step is simply recognition of the community pursuant to the Indian Act, so we can get people much needed services, and healthcare, and education and housing."

Williams says the Peskotomuhkati had treaty rights with the Crown as early as 1725, but with the arrival of the Loyalists following the American Revolution, and later, administrative errors by staff at federal Indian Affairs, those rights were lost.

"For the nation it means recognition, it means a healthy relationship with the Crown. It means a community based economy, it means respect for the relationship with the land, it means joint work to restore the ecosystem," he said.

Then Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett with Peskotomuhkati Chief, Hugh Akagi at Camp Chiputneticook in February, 2018. (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs)

It also means a new arrangement with traditional lands along the St. Croix River valley.

Yet to be discussed in the talks are what are referred to as shared conservation lands, park lands, and boundaries.

Also still to be resolved, the question of what rights Peskotomuhkati people in nearby communities of Pleasant Point and Indian Township, Maine would have on this side of the border.

Important case

A Supreme Court of Canada case to be heard in May involving recognition of the Sinixt First Nation will have a bearing on the negotiations here, including hunting and fishing rights for Maine based members

The Sinixt were located on both sides of the Washington state, British Columbia border.

Roughly 3,000 people of Sinixt ancestry are believed to be living in the U.S.

The First Nation was declared "extinct" on the Canadian side by the federal government in 1956, but many survivors are believed to have been assimilated into other BC First Nations.

Williams says the Peskotomuhkati have applied to be intervenors in the case.

Talks going well

There is much to indicate talks in New Brunswick are going well.

Williams says a negotiating framework agreement was resolved over a two year period - something that often can take a decade to work out.

The federal government is also helping with costs to staff an office in St. Stephen for the Peskotomuhkati. 

Equally significant,  in February, 2018, Ottawa purchased a 2500 acre (1011 hectare) parcel of land directly on the St. Croix and turned it over to Passamaquoddy Recognition Group Inc.

2500 acres (1011 hectares) of land on the St Croix River was turned over to the Peskotomuhkati people in 2018 by the federal government. It includes an historic hunting lodge and large collection of Passamaquoddy artifacts. (Service New Brunswick)

The property, near Scotch Ridge, includes an historic hunting lodge, and a large collection of Peskotomuhkati artifacts that had been acquired over time by the property's long-time previous owners.

Williams expects many of the most difficult issues will be resolved over the next two years, or a little longer.

The talks will continue beyond that, he says, as part of an "evolving" relationship.

A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada could not immediately speak to the status of negotiations.


Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726