IN SEARCH OF MY ACADIAN AND NATIVE LINEAGE
By Gail Gagnon
Your family heritage, your roots can never be changed. It is who you are. You can choose to hide your ancestry, deny it and even ignore it. One thing is certain you can never change it, and why would you want to? Exploring our past helps us to understand ourselves and why we do, feel and say things that are unique to us as an individual. My ancestors came from many places, and I celebrate each and every one of them.
My father’s family is a mixture of Russian, German, Scottish, Irish and then some. Many of his ancestors helped shape the United States during its infancy. They were rugged aggressive individuals that came to escape their homelands, religion, persecution, and fight for their freedom. Many are noted in history books as having served with General George Washington, fighting in the Revolutionary war, fighting the Indians, opening new territories and settling the west. Many facts have been recorded about these people.
My mother’s side of the family is French Acadian and Native American. It is my Mother’s heritage that I feel compelled to explore in great detail. So much of her ancestor’s history was lost due to deportation of the Acadians and the attempt by the Europeans to eliminate the entire indigenous population from their lands, resources and rights as a people. Due to the uprooting of both the Acadian and the Native American families in North America it is a wonder that any records can be found at all to successfully document their lineage. These families were forcefully evicted from their homes and homelands and lost everything they owned if they were suspected of being Acadian, Native American or worse a mixed blood. For those of us who are privileged enough to have mixed blood, resource documents have been lost or hidden. Denial was a way of self-preservation and which lead to loss of identity as a people, shame and deception. My mother’s family adopted aspects of both cultures and lived their whole life using what their families learned from each other to survive the harsh elements of daily life in the St. John Valley.
The mixed blood children of the French and Indians began in the early 1600’s with the marriages of the Natives and the French settlers, fur traders, fishermen and explorers. These intermarriages helped the Acadians to survive. Without the presence of their French women, the native women provided comfort, sustenance and means of survival in the new land. The native women who married some of the French settlers gained status within their own people. The importance of family was seen in the establishment of Acadian villages. The first parish priests had a difficult time applying religious restrictions regarding marriages and inbreeding. This was one of the motivations for keeping parish registers in the conscientious manner they did back then.
The French Colonists created alliances with the local Indians, who mostly preferred the settlers from France over those from Britain because, unlike the British who took all the land they could, the coastal French in Acadia did not invade the Native hunting grounds within. In the earlier 1700’s the British threatened to deport the Acadians unless they pledged allegiance to the King of England. The Acadians refused, claiming that they were not allied with France that they were neutral and did not want to join the British in fights against the Indians, who were their allies and relatives.
The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ended the war over ownership of the land and made the Acadians’ British subjects. The British were leery of the relationships developed between the Natives and the Acadians. In 1730, the Acadians signed an oath swearing allegiance to the British crown, but stipulated that Acadians would not have to take up arms against the French or the Indians.
Initially The Micmac greeted the British with hospitality but when they realized the British had come to seize their land, they chose to resist this effort by the British to establish more settlements. British Governor Edward Cornwallis felt it better to get rid of them in the area forever. The Micmac declared war against them on September 23, 1749. On October 2, 1749 during a lull in the war against Nova Scotia’s indigenous people Governor Edward Cornwallis placed a bounty on the heads of the Micmac people. (Paul) His idea was to destroy the Micmac wherever they were found and anyone that might assist them.
The British governors of Nova Scotia believed that the Acadians, the Micmac and the French would soon overthrow the British rule. The British wanted to keep the Micmac and Acadians and the French segregated. He promised a reward of ten Guineas for every Indian scalp. The aiding and assisting the Micmac was used by the English as an excuse to slaughter the French as attested to by Abbe Maillard, who kept a record of the Micmac and English war. Since there was a bounty of the taking of Indian scalps, the soldiers would have their officers turn their back and the French who assisted the Micmac’s were instantly shot and scalped. These scalps were turned in as though they were Indian scalps. On June 21, 1750 Cornwallis’s Council raised the monetary incentive to 50 pounds.
At the beginning of the French and Indian War in 1754, the British government demanded that Acadian take an oath of allegiance to the Crown that included fighting the French. Most of them refused. The British Governor Charles Lawrence decided to deport the Acadians in 1755. The Acadian mixed blood Indians were highly respected among the Indians which was one of the factors leading up to the great deportation of Acadians. The Micmac tribe of Quebec helped many of Acadians in the countryside to elude the British and provided necessary support to many refugee Acadians who were their relatives. Many mixed blood Indians were included in the Acadian deportation. No one knows for sure how many were separated from their families.
At the end of the year in 1755, the French villages were destroyed. Their people were scattered from Quebec to Georgia, or else went into hiding in the forests with their Indian allies and relatives. Many who escaped into the forests struggled to Miramichi and a few found homes at the head waters of the St. John. Many of these individuals were eventually able to seek permanent homes in Quebec. The natives who had strong ties with the defeated French were dismayed with the fact that the Acadians were considered as conquered people under the sovereignty of Britain.
When the war was ended between the French and British, there was no longer the need to appease the indigenous people in hopes of becoming allies in the war over the colonization of Canada. Now was the beginning of the British attempts to steal the Indian Territory and its resources. Many of the mixed blood European and Indian families who had some higher education from their European allies were natural born leaders. Some of these mixed blood families had obtained positions of power within the Indian communities. It was deemed necessary by the British to segregate these Indian families.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was the beginning of an ongoing effort to eliminate the entire indigenous population from their lands, titles, resources and rights as a people. This process began right after the great expulsion of the Acadians where the British had accessed military might over the First Nations population, and had first categorized them into three groups: Tribal Indians (living in bands) Free Indians (living as nomads) and civilized Indians (servants to white masters). Then they allotted very specific land areas to the tribal Indians and used the Church to help rob them of their culture and creating someone who was dependent on the government to survive.
My mixed blood Acadian/Native ancestors had to make a distinct choice, either join the Acadian population under British rule or rejoin their Native families under British rule. Their mixed blood status needed to be removed and hidden. These individuals were completely forced to assimilate into these two categories and cease being who they were, a mixed blood. If they chose not to do this then they were made to suffer the consequences which included the continued persecution of their relatives in both the Acadian and Indian communities from the government and Catholic Church.
Few historical records of these mixed blood families were kept. The Catholic Church under British rule controlled the new world and its existence depended on their ability to control the Acadian and Indian congregations. The church assisted the government in controlling the military resistance that began with the removal of the Acadians. The Catholic leaders used every means possible to discourage and separate the Acadians and their native families.
The mere mention of anything native meant something negative and should be avoided by all mixed bloods choosing to assimilate into the Acadian population. This conditioning was so strong that all visible traces of the native blood in the mixed bloods were carefully hidden in the recorded archives of the church registries for over 200 years. These families were left out of all meaningful Indigenous treaty negotiations and involvements. For those Acadian families that chose to live outside of Acadian populated areas they were looked down upon, passed over for jobs and discriminated against.
The mixed bloods that chose to assimilate into the Indian population were moved on to Reserved Indian land and were to be controlled by the Canadian Government. The Indian’s self-reliance was removed when the Government took their lands. Their strength and health were diminishing because of disease, alcohol, and starvation. Their spirit was being destroyed by religion and stereo-typing. Their spiritual practices were illegal; children were separated from their families.
In 1850 the Indian Act for Lower Canada was when the first legal definition of Indian was used:
All persons of Indian blood
All persons intermarried with any such Indians residing amongst them
All children of mixed marriages residing among the Indians
Persons adopted in infancy by any such Indians
In 1857 the Canadian Government adopted the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes- Enfranchisement scheme. This was an avenue to assist the native population in giving up their identity and rights. This scheme spelled out certain terms for who are considered an Indian. The Enfranchised Indian could take a name and surname of his choosing. He or she would forever be known as this baptismal name legally on all documents. They would now be a Canadian Citizen and each be given a piece of land not exceeding 50 acres and a sum of money equal to the principal of his share of annuities or other revenues receivable by his tribe. Each of these individuals would give up their Indian status and any benefits associated with it and any voice in the proceedings of any future native issues. If an Indian chose to be educated and competent, then they were also deemed an enfranchised Indian.
The Indian Act was changed again in 1869 to allow bands to enfranchise Indian women who married non-Indians. This created the process of defining Indian and legitimacy through the decent of the male line only. Any mixed blood Indians under the female lineage were soon forgotten if their lineage did not stem from the male line.
From a book "Real" Indians and Others: Mixed =Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood, written by Bonita Lawrence; Mixed blood urban Native peoples in Canada are profoundly affected by federal legislation that divides Indigenous peoples into different categories. The mixed blood urban Indians understand their identity and struggle to survive in a world that, more often than not, fails to recognize them. The book indicates how the Canadian government’s effort to define Native identity through the years by means of the Indian Act and shows how residential schooling, the loss of official Indian status and adoption have effected native identity. The author looks at how natives with Indian status react and respond to Non-status natives and how federally recognized Native peoples attempt to impose an identity on non-federally recognized Natives. Devastating loss of community has resulted from identity legislation and non- status Native people have wrestled with their past and current identities.
It stands to reason that with the deportation of Acadians and destruction of their properties and churches it is no wonder that resource documents are so difficult to obtain. The Catholic Church kept the records as they saw fit, and this was to eliminate any connection the Acadian/Native families had to one another. The church and government were also out to civilize the natives and have them assimilate into the Canadian population as though they never existed. This is still going on today.
According to the law of the highest court in 1850 if we had mixed Indian blood then we were all Indians, the same legal Indians who are protected under all the treaties between the governments and our leaders prior to 1763. The fact that my DNA has European genes is wonderful, but the fact that my DNA has genes from my Native American ancestors that signed the treaties before 1763 makes me proud.
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Heimlich, E. (2000). Acadians. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from Gale Encyclopedia of Multiculural America:
Makarenko, J. (2008, June 2). he Indian Act: Historical Overview. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from Mapleleafweb:
Native Peoples in the Upper St.John River valley
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Paul, D. (n.d.). We Were Not the Savages. Retrieved january 10, 2013, from First Nation History:
The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy
. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2013, from The Royal Proclamation - October 7, 1763: