‘We were the only owners of the Land’

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A counter viewpoint on 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference

Mi’kmaq youth march during Treaty Day ceremonies on Oct. 1. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Surely, many Canadians will joyfully celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that led up to the Confederation of Canada. However, as a Mi’kmaq person — and it is undoubtedly the sentiment of the majority of Mi’kmaq and other Indigenous Peoples of Canada — I would offer an alternate viewpoint.

It is a known fact that Canada — and all of what was to be known as the New World — was stolen from Indigenous Peoples by Christian European nations by way of Papal Bulls issued in 1452 and 1453. Indeed, these Papal documents were frequently used by Christian European conquerors in the Americas to justify an incredibly brutal system of colonization which dehumanized and slaughtered not only the Mi’kmaq People but also thousands of other Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the United States.  It is unfathomable to me that a Pope of the Roman Catholic Church could issue Papal Bulls that are so contrary to the loving words of Jesus Christ.

King Henry VII of England in the year 1496, issued a Royal Patent to John Cabot and his sons to all lands in the New World not “discovered” by Portugal or Spain. It had the same effect as the Papal Bulls. It is known as the 1496 Royal Charter of the Church of England.

It is a known fact this is the way the British justified the expropriation of Mi’kmaq land, resources and the slaughter of our people. As it was a direct result of Papal Bulls issued by the Vatican, especially the In Cetera document, in which Pope Alexander stated his desire that the “discovered” people be “subjugated and brought to the faith itself.”  

These Papal Bulls and English Royal Charter supposedly gave the right to the English Crown to take from the Mi’kmaq People all the lands in P.E.I. and granted them to the British gentry.

The British did not follow their own due process of law, which they enacted through the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which states in part:

“We do therefore, with the advice of our Privy Council, declare it to be our Royal Will and Pleasure, . . . that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our other Colonies or Plantations in America do presume for the present, and until our further Pleasure be Known, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass Patents for . . .  any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them. . . . “ However, the Royal Proclamation is now part of the Constitution of Canada.

One thing one could do was to complain to the provincial government, which (in principle) represented the Crown. That is precisely what the Míkmaw Chiefs on Prince Edward Island did in 1832 after nearly all of their land was granted to a handful of wealthy English “proprietors.”  Here is the part of the submission made in text of their appeal, as it was recorded in the official Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island:


Before the white men crossed the great waters, our woods offered us food and clothes in plenty — the waters gave us fish — and the woods game — our fathers were hardy, brave and free — we knew no want — we were the only owners of the Land.


They promised to leave us some of our land-but they did not — they drove us from place to place like wild beasts — that was not just.


Our tribe in Nova Scotia, Canada, New Brunswick and Cape Breton, have land on which their Families are happy. We ask of you, Fathers, to give us a part of that land once our fathers’ — whereon we may raise our wigwams without disturbance — and plough and sow — that we may live, and our children also — else, Fathers, you may soon see not one drop of Indian blood in the Island, once our own — where is now our land?  — we have none”.

Fathers, we are poor — do not forsake us — remember the promises your fathers made to ours.

While many would celebrate, others of us will be contemplating the true sacrifices of the due process of Confederation.

With this, I offer you a counter viewpoint to the collective celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.

By John Joe Sark


John Joe Sark is Keptin of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council for the District Of Epekwitk (P.E.I.)

Organizations: Roman Catholic Church, Royal Patent, Royal Charter of the Church of England.It English Royal Charter English Crown Privy Council Royal Will Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island Grand Council for the District Of Epekwitk

Geographic location: Canada, Charlottetown, United States Americas England Portugal Spain Vatican P.E.I. Nova Scotia New Brunswick Cape Breton

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