Land Grab angers Passamaquoddy people
Source: Windspeaker News
Joan Taillon, Windspeaker Staff Writer
St. Andrews N.B., November, 2001
A disagreement over who has jurisdiction over 4.6 acres in this New Brunswick town may create a rift between locals identifying themselves as members of the Passamaquoddy nation and their non-Native neighbors who have been their friends for generations.
The dispute has caught the attention of the Maritimes’ Native leadership of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs Secretariat, which is supporting Chief Hugh Akagi, although his St. Croix Scoodic band is not accorded First Nations status by the government of Canada.
A strongly worded statement issued by the chiefs berates the town for “trying to sell Passmaquoddy sacred grounds and promoting it as ‘prime building lots’.”
Akagi said there are graves there. His people want to keep the property in a natural state. The town’s mayor calls it an eyesore that needs to be cleaned up.
The town’s determination to sell the land for development “shows the typical respect that the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people receive from their neighboring municipalities when dealing with the sacred and traditional lands, and we’re not putting up with it any longer,” said congress co-chair Chief Second Peter Barlow in the release.
The chiefs urge that the town “reconsider” its intention to sell the land or prepare to face legal or other consequences.
St. Andrews’ mayor, John Craig, said that town council decided early in the month to table the matter until February. Craig insists, however, “the land is not really in dispute–the town does own it.”
St. Andrews and the province say it is the federal government’s responsibility to sort out Native land claims. Everyone contacted in this matter said the federal government does not recognize Akagi ‘s group.
“It’s more of a federal issue, said Mayor Craig. “We don’t look at it as an Indian issue. We’re trying to keep the Indian issue out of it altogether, because Native issues fall under the federal government. As a town, we don’t have the jurisdiction, as far as I’m concerned.
“The province and the courts all say we own the land.”
Town councillor Michael Craig, a “distant cousin” to the mayor, thinks differently.
He said the town’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of the Passamaquoddy is an attempt to make it “all go away.” He thinks this is short-sighted and foolish. He also agreed with Akagi that the Passamaquoddy and the non-Native residents of the community get along and he would like that to continue.
“They (town council) don’t seem to realize we’re not living in the days of smoke signals anymore. We have mass communication; we have instant communication. And they (Native people) have instant communication. . . . And like all of us, they’re better educated. There’re more lawyers. There’s more going on than a lot of people realize.”
“I think that might be a thing that scares a lot of people, too,” said Michael Craig. “They’re very good at what they do. They’re very good at all aspects of our society, if you will, if you want to make that distinction but they learn very quickly and are probably better at it in most things than we are.”
The mayor said a 700-name petition to conserve the “green space” in the centre of town is not an endorsement by non-Natives of the Passamaquoddy claim to the property, but simply means that half the town’s citizens have said they want the land to remain undeveloped. Mayor Craig added that town council is preparing to distribute maps to better inform people what the land consists of, as he said he thought many who signed may not have had a clear idea of exactly what land is proposed for development.
He said the 4.6 acres of “higher end” land near the centre of town consists of nine building lots that will increase the town’s tax base by $20,000 if $150,000 to $200,000 homes are erected there.
“We’re trying to maximize the tax base of the town.”
The alternative, he said, is to turn the small acreage into a public park.
He indicated that if it were up to him, the matter would be dealt with now, because putting a decision off allows more time for bad feelings to fester.
He said that if at some time in the future the federal government and the courts decided Akagi’s people were entitled to the land, the federal government would likely compensate them financially.
“That’s not what we want,” said Akagi. “We want the land.”
Akagi said the town has other property with water and sewer hookups that is ready to be developed; he therefore imputes political motives to the plan to take the last of the Passamaquoddy people’s land.
Having served three terms on council himself, he said his experience tells him the mayor may be overstating the revenue that could be gained from developing the property. Akagee said in the 1980s the town borrowed $200,000 to put in infrastructure for another development for which they carried interest on the debt for six years. And then they had to drop the lot prices about $4,000 to sell them.
The Passamaquoddy people are worried that if the town sells these lots, it would open the door for it to sell the remaining approximate 100 acres at Quonasqamkuk (Indian Point) that the Passamaquoddy claim as their own.
“We own most of that anyway,” said the mayor.
The town and the federal government maintain there is no Passamaquoddy band in Canada. Their position is that the Native people in St. Andrews belong, or may be eligible to belong, to the Passamaquoddy tribe in the United States.
But both the Atlantic Policy Congress and Akagi say the St. Croix Scoodic band of the Passamaquoddy in Canada never ceded its traditional territory throughout 200 years of continuous encroachment by the province and town.
Akagi, whose mother was “half Native” and his father Japanese, said that although there supposedly are no Passamaquoddy people in St. Andrews, the town nonetheless did not charge his family property tax when his mother was alive. As soon as she died in 1957, he said, the town began taxing his father.
A spokesman for the chiefs’ group, J. J. Bear, likens the Passamaquoddy people to the Innu, who until recently had not entered negotiations with the federal government with respect to obtaining “status,” but they nonetheless exist as a nation that other Aboriginal peoples recognize.
“It is my opinion that if they (the Passamaquoddy) were to launch an action suit to stop the sale, they would have the support of technicians and lawyers from both the [congress] chiefs and the Passamaquoddy tribal government in Maine,” said Bear.