Pictou Landing First Nation History
The Lnu or Mi’kmaq were part of the Algonquin nation, a large nation that occupied the eastern coast of what is now North America from Virginia to Labrador. Within the Algonquin nation, the Lnu occupied a large territory including what is now known as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, eastern and northern New Brunswick and the Gaspe area of Quebec.
The Lnu lived a traditional life as fishers, hunters and gatherers throughout their territory including in and around a small tidal estuary connected by a narrow channel to the Northumberland Strait near what is now known as Pictou Landing. It was near this estuary that the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation lived on a seasonal basis. The estuary was a bountiful source of a variety of food including fish, eels, crustaceans and shellfish. They hunted and trapped near its shores. The estuary provided a safe harbour for vessels and a sheltered recreational area. The estuary was so important to the life of the ancestors that they treated it as part of their home and called it “A’Se’K” (pronounced “Ah-sag”) which means “the other room” in Lnu.
Treaty of 1760
After England defeated France in Nova Scotia, the British Crown entered into a treaty with the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation in 1760. This treaty implicitly recognised the right of the ancestors to occupy, hunt, fish, gather and harvest on lands within their territory including lands at A’Se’K.
1761 – Promises of Legal Protection for Land
In 1761, at a treaty ceremony, Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher, later the first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, assured the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation that the laws of England would protect their rights and property in these words:
The Laws will be like a great Hedge about your Rights and properties, if any break this Hedge to hurt and injure you, the heavy weight of the Laws will fall upon them and punish their Disobedience.Also in 1761 a Royal Proclamation was issued in Nova Scotia acknowledging that the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation had made a claim to all land along the northeastern shore of Nova Scotia, including the area around A’Se’K, and forbidding any settlement in the area.
1763 France formally ceded North America to England and England promptly issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 providing for four colonial territories in North America, none of which included Nova Scotia, and setting out the manner of acquiring land lying outside these four territories from their original inhabitants. The Proclamation set out the process by which such lands could be surrendered to the Crown.
The effect of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in Nova Scotia was to make it unlawful for the local government to grant any interest in land that had not been ceded or surrendered to the Crown in accordance with the Proclamation.
1766 Lnu Understanding of Treaty Rights to Land
In 1766 the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation assembled at Chapel Island in Cape Breton with other Lnu and declared that no settlement would be allowed in Pictou as they understood that this land had been set aside for their use in earlier treaties including the Treaty of 1760.
1770’s Failure of the Law to Protect Treaty and Aboriginal Rights to Land
Despite the treaty of 1760, the assurances given by Lieutenant Governor Belcher, the Royal Proclamation of 1761, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the fact that no land had been ceded or surrendered by the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation, settlers began settling in the area around A’Se’K beginning in 1777.
Indian Cross Point Burying Grounds
Soon all of the land in the area was the subject of a Crown grant except for an estimated 34 acres of land containing burial grounds of the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation on the eastern shore of the East River a few kilometres from A’Se’K. There is no record that these lands were formally set apart for the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation but they are designated on early maps as “Indian Burying Grounds” (the “Burying Grounds”) in an area known as Indian Cross Point.
Settlers soon made claim even to the Burying Grounds. In 1784 two chiefs granted a deed to one acre of the Burying Grounds directly to James Carmichael in a transaction that failed to comply with the surrender provisions of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Fifty years later in 1834 James Carmichael would convey this acre of land to Margaret McConnell but would purport to convey the entire Burying Grounds.
1828 – Dispossessed of All Traditional Land
In the meantime, the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation continued to live in the area around A’Se’K despite the Crown grants to settlers. For over fifty years they continued to occupy, hunt, fish and gather and harvest an area near A’Se’K. However, the settlers viewed them as trespassers and in 1828 they were prevented from planting crops in the area and ordered to leave by the settler who held a Crown grant for the land.
Without any recognized territory, the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation petitioned the government to acquire lands from the settlers near A’Se’K to be set apart for their exclusive use as had been done in other parts of the Province. Without any land base at all, many were destitute and relied on the Province for their subsistence.
1864 – Finally 50 Acres of Land
In 1864 the Province finally acquired 50 acres of land near A’Se’K (using “Indian money” from the sale of “Indian lands” in Cape Breton) and set it apart for the exclusive use and enjoyment of the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation, who numbered 159 at the time.
1867 – 1960 – More Land for Firewood
With Confederation in 1867, the legal title to these 50 acres passed from Nova Scotia to Canada and became known as Fisher’s Grant Indian Reserve No. 24. Over the next 100 years several more small parcels of land were acquired by Canada near A’Se’K (again using “Indian money”) and set apart for the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation as food and fuel supplies proved inadequate on the original 50 acres. These included Fisher’s Grant Indian Reserves No. 24A, 24B, 24C, 24D, 24E, 24F and 24G.
Over time the Pictou Landing First Nation built homes and other buildings on their lands.
1960 – Division of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq into Bands
In 1960 the Department of Indian Affairs divided the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia into several bands. The “Pictou Landing Indian Band” was created and the records of the Indian Land Registry maintained by the Department of Indian Affairs were changed to record that all reserve lands in Pictou County were now set apart for the Pictou Landing First Nation.
1962 – Amalgamation of Reserve Land
In 1962 the Department of Indian Affairs amalgamated Fisher’s Grant Indian Reserves No. 24, 24A, 24B, 24C, 24D and 24F into one reserve known as Fisher’s Grant Indian Reserve No. 24 (“I. R. No. 24”) (I. R. No. 24E had been previously sold).
1963 and 1964 – Even More Land for Firewood
Between 1963 and 1964 two-100 acre lots near A’Se’K were acquired by Canada using “Indian money” and set apart for the Pictou Landing First Nation as the Boat Harbour West Indian Reserve No. 37 (“I. R. No. 37”) bringing the total amount of land set apart for the Pictou Landing First Nation around A’Se’K to 691 acres: I. R. No. 24 (349 acres), I. R. No. 24G (142 acres) and I. R. No. 37 (200 acres).
A’Se’K continued to be an important part of the life of the Pictou Landing First Nation. In this “other room” they fished eels and other fish, harvested lobster and shellfish, moored their fishing vessels and swam. They continued to occupy, hunt, fish gather and harvest on the lands adjacent A’Se’K.
The Northumberland Strait was also important to the Pictou Landing First Nation. Here they fished, harvested lobster and other shellfish, and swam in its warm waters in summer, particularly at the adjacent Lighthouse Beach.
Lighthouse Beach was a fine sand beach that was also popular with other residents of Pictou County due to its proximity to Trenton and New Glasgow some 10 kilometres away. In need of additional revenues, the Pictou Landing First Nation had established a canteen near the beach and had plans to further develop their lands along the Northumberland Strait to take advantage of its location near Lighthouse Beach which could only be accessed on foot over I. R. No. 24
“The community did not get a chance to do so. In 1967 the Province of Nova Scotia established an industrial waste treat facility at A’se’k for the new pulp mill at Abercrombie Point. The mill began dumping 25 million gallons of toxic wastewater per day into the waters of A’Se’K where it was held before being released into the Northumberland Strait.
Not only did this kill all of the fish and eels in A’Se’K but the toxic water also made its way to Lighthouse Beach leaving the waters at the beach unsuitable for swimming. This combined with the pungent smell of sulphur from the wastewater treatment facility, kept members of the public from frequenting the beach.
The members of Pictou Landing First Nation had no other lands to move to and have, since 1967, been unable to escape the direct and indirect adverse effects of the wastewater treatment facility.”