INTRODUCTION

Prior to and during 2007, many intergovernmental meetings were held among officials from the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi, the Government of Québec and the Government of Canada.  These meetings paved the way for the preparation of Nm’tginen, our Statement of Claim.

Central to these meetings were our assertions that the Mi’gmaq have had ongoing and exclusive occupation of the territory of Gespe’gewa’gi and have accepted responsibility for centuries to watch over the land and its resources.

AGREEMENTS WITH OTHER INDIGENOUS NATIONS 

Before the arrival of the Europeans, we had extensive trading activities among our extended families and among the Seven Districts that made up (and still make up) Mi’gma’gi, the Mi’gmaq Nation.
Our history confirms the existence of agreements and treaties with the Maliseet, Penobscot, Passamaquody and Mohawk Nations dating as far back as the last millennium.
We were able to make the agreements because other nations clearly knew that our occupation of our land was exclusive to us. We were the only users (but, in Mi’gmaq belief, not the owners) of our land.  Other nations had their territories and we had ours.  We were a fully independent nation in our own territory, with our own language, our laws, and systems of governance.
USE OF WATERWAYS THROUGHOUT GESPEGEWAGI 
Mi’gmaq Elders and many others who use and know the riverways assert that many sites, gathering places, rivers and tributaries throughout Gespe’gewa’gi were named by our ancestors, known by our hunters, fishers, harvesters and families, and used extensively by our people long before the arrival of Europeans.
Here are some of the names and descriptions that our ancestors gave to our waterways:
  • Gaqtugwawei (Thunder), Galipuei (Caribou), Wowgwisewei (Fox), and the Dartmouth, York, and Saint John Rivers (gigjiw Gespe’g etegl) all flow in the eastern and northeastern direction. The Waqamatgug (Bonaventure), Gesgapegia’jg (Cascapedia), Tlapataqanji’jg (Nouvelle) and the Winpegijuig (Nipisquit) flow west into the Mawi Paqtapegigtug (Baie des Chaleurs). The Getnig (Restigouche) allows entrance into the Appalachian Plateau, flowing westward towards the Walustugewei Sipu (Saint John River) in Maliseet territory.
  • As well, its main tributaries continue to be known by their Mi’gmaq names: the Matapegiag (Matapedia), Apse’tgwejg (Upsalquitch), Patapegiag (Patapedia) and Metamgetjuig (Kedgwick).”

By using the river systems and canoe routes along the shores as well as in the coastal areas, our ancestors traveled inland into the territory in order to hunt, fish, trap, and gather resources and materials so that they could achieve ta’n teliangweiatulti’gw (“how to best take care of each other”).

Our ancestors named and used the medicines, plants, foods, and animals that they found in the territory

  • Mi’gmaq place names of rivers, gathering sites, plants and animals affirm both the use and occupation of our territory.
  • Our language and oral traditions have allowed us to pass our knowledge of our exclusive occupation of the territory on from one generation to the next over thousands of years. 

USING THE RESOURCES OF GESPEGEWAGI 

We have always used our territory, including the rivers and tributaries.  The rivers are a basis for Mi’gmaq livelihood.  And, the rivers help families stay connected. An Elder from Gesgapegiag tells us:

  • Even though our kids go to university, they come home to guide, they make their livingfrom the sipu (meaning river), like my father, my grandfather, as well as my wife’s family. It is the source of our “mimajuaqan”, our livelihood,. The sipu keeps our family connected and who we are as Mi’gmaq. “Me’ newte’ wejmimajultieg na’te’l”, means “we have always used the river system as the basis of our livelihood.”

He went on to emphasize his family’s long-time connection with the fishery:

  • Gis sa’q wesg’tieg plamuei, pana nige’ tluenej mimajuaqan weja’tueg gis sa’q plamuei, muta ne’gaw st’ge nmijgamijaq, nte’pitem ujja, aq ni’n nujjaq, etliws’gtipnig Gesgapegiag aq Waqam’tgug, etlia’lutasultipnig, na tluenej ap ugmimajuaqannmuow weja’tu’tij na’te’l, plumawitug.”

Translated:  

  • Since time immemorial, we have made a living from the fishery, just like my grandfather, my wife’s father, and my father. We made a living from fishing in Gesgapegiag and at Waqam’tgug they ‘guided’ and made their living from the ‘fishery’.”
RESPONSIBILITY FOR RESOURCES
Stewardship means “conserving, preserving, managing, protecting, or safeguarding” something such as a natural resource.  It means exactly the oppposite of “destroying, wasting, neglecting, or using up.”
Our ancestors practiced stewardship over the land and its resources.  Today, because of them and their careful conservation, we have an abundant supply of resources that we are re-claiming for our people to share.
An essential part of Mi’gmaq culture is the idea that nobody really owns the land. Instead, resources are to be shared among people, families, and communities.
The idea of caretaking and collective ownership is described by Mi’gmaq Elders who question how anybody can own the water:
  • Ap na na’te’l matnaggewaqan wenaqieig, aq tal gisiassutew wen samuqwan, tal gisiassutew wen river bed, tal gis tliatew na? Ni’n ne’gaw pugwelg ta’n goqwei getlams’tm, mu wen assutmug samuqwan. Aq ninen mu telua’tiweg’p, ni’n assutm mussewji’j, ms’t wen wetapesij na sipu.”

Translated:

  • When these [fishing] conflicts arise, often it is about who can “own” the waters. How can anybody own the ‘river bed’, how can that happen? I believe many things in my life, one of them is, no one owns the water. We don’t say ‘I own a piece of the river’, when everyone is supposed to benefit from the river system.”
CONCLUSION
Central to the Mi’gmaq worldview and way of life is the idea that the world is alive. By living with the four elements of Creation (land, water, air and sky), the Mi’gmaq have always accepted responsibilities to the territory and to each other.
By using all of the resources ofthe territory responsibly  ~ plants, animals, water, and wind ~ our ancestral families took care of the land, keeping in mind the generations coming ahead.   This is what we pledge to do, now and in the future, when our rights and title to Gespe’gewaa’gi are affirmed and returned to us.
LEARN MORE
Read the text of Nm’tginen, the Gespe’gewa’gi Statement of Claim, in your choice of Mi’gmaw, English or French.