Recognizing the Indigenous heritage of ‘where the trail ends'

·5 min read

Under bright sunshine Wednesday morning, May 25, representatives of Woodstock First Nation, the Canadian government and Parks Canada met south of Woodstock, along the shore of the St. John River — or Wolastoq (Wəlastəkw) as it was known by those who lived along its shores and harvested its bounties for hundreds of generations.

They, along with others, gathered in Hay Settlement to celebrate the national historical significance of the ancient Meductic (Mehtawtick) village, which before the 17th century was a principal settlement for the Wəlastəkokewiyik (Maliseet) people.

For Woodstock First Nation Chief Tim Paul and Lands Manager Terri Paul, the Wednesday morning ceremony to unveil a plaque outlining the riverside property's significance to their ancestors was the end of many years of effort.

"This is the end of a journey and the beginning of a journey to the end," Terri Paul said.

She said that over time, the large house on the site would become a museum displaying artifacts from the village and other areas and an interpretive centre, telling the story, good and bad, of Meductic Village and Fort Meductic, built by the French in the 17th century when the allied with the native inhabitants.

The settlement site sits at the mouth of Hay Creek, west of Eel River. Mehtawtick means "end of the trail," aptly describing the village's location. It offered rich hunting and fishing grounds and fertile soil for growing corn and other crops.

Today, the fertile land sits under the waters of the expanded river following the construction of the Mactaquac Dam in 1967.

Chief Paul explained the property was not home to the village but overlooks where the now flooded village used to sit.

The riverside property sits across Route 165, the former Trans Canada Highway, from the beginning of the Maliseet Trail. Chief Paul explained the trail was one of the routes bringing various tribes from across what today is New Brunswick and northern Maine.

Meanwhile, the chief explained, the Wolastoq served as a major highway for his ancestors.

"We've been after this property for a long time because of its cultural and historical significance," he explained.

Chief Paul said his band finally purchased the property in 2019.

"It's a shame we had to do that, but that was the only way we could get it," he said.

Terri Paul welcomed Wednesday's ceremony to unveil an upgraded plaque and formally announce Mehtawtic Village as a designated historical site by the Canadian government through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC).

HSMBC's New Brunswick representative Bernard Theriault served as the event's emcee, noting official recognition of the property's historical significance dates back to 1924. A smaller plaque noting the site's history at that time disappeared in 2011.

After the band purchased the land, Terri Paul said Parks Canada worked in partnership with the band to recognize, commemorate, and share their Indigenous story.

Prominent Native historian Andrea Bear Nicholas of Nekotkok (Tobique First Nation) offered a brief history of Meductic (Mehtawtick) village and beyond.

She explained that Canadian history taught in schools includes little about the nation's Indigenous people, including the wars they fought. She explained that the history books tell plenty of tales about the First and Second World Wars but nothing about the four 17th-century battles in which Indigenous people fought to protect their homeland.

Remembrance pays tribute to veterans, including Indigenous people, who fought under the Canadian flag, but not Native warriors who protected their people.

Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin also joined Wednesday's celebration on behalf of Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.

"The Government of Canada is committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on a recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. On behalf of the Government of Canada, we remember the national historical significance of Mehtawtik Village. National historic designations commemorate positive and negative aspects of Canada's history and prompt us to reflect on the sometimes painful and challenging moments that define Canada today. By sharing these stories with Canadians, we hope to foster better understanding of the decisions and events that built Canada as a country."

In its media release announcing the heritage site, Parks Canada noted the great value of Mehtawtik village to the Wəlastəkokewiyik for the excellent hunting and harvesting of crops.

"In the spring," the release explained, "the Wəlastəkokewiyik would regularly visit the area to plant corn, returning later in the year to harvest the crops. For families who gathered here, the harvest was an occasion for social, cultural, and spiritual activities."

Chief Paul explained after the Maliseet allied with the French during the colonial wars, they fortified the area with a fort.

In the 1780s, the region fell under British rule, forcing Native populations to scatter, including the many forced to settle on a reserve in Lower Woodstock in 1851.

Chief Paul said the land provides an important landmark for his band and others across New Brunswick, noting it would be used as a pow wow grounds.

Chief Paul said a lot of work remains to complete their vision for the heritage site with the interpretive site and the museum to display the artifacts, which were stolen from the land and are scattered far and wide over the years.

"There's still a lot to do, but there are limits to the funding," he said.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting