Archeologist calls Metepenagiag Heritage Park a model for First Nations relations

Posted on September 16, 2007
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Dr. Chris Turnbull                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Dr. Chris Turnbull 

          After Metepenagiag Chief Donald Ward had known Dr. Chris Turnbull for about three years, he told him “I have decided to trust you.”

          Turnbull, the very first archaeologist hired by the Province of New Brunswick, had met Joe Mike Augustine in September 1972. Paul Morrissy, Director of Native Studies at St. Thomas University which had taken the lead in trying to attract First Nations students.

          Having seen Joe Mike’s box of artifacts, spear points, knives, copper beads and a pipe, he and two students went to Red Bank to visit the site.

          Then began the process of earning the trust of the community and an agreement on how exploration could proceed. Because Joe Mike made his discoveries on band land, chief and council could and did immediately stop the removal of gravel from the pit near the mound.

          First Nations had very little interaction with provincial governments then. First Nations members were under federal jurisdiction. Neither they nor governments favoured doing anything that might diminish the federal role.

          Historic resources, however, are a provincial responsibility. Turnbull raised funds from grant programs outside provincial government sources. His department was content to let him work directly with the First Nations on lands both levels of government considered federal.

          Dr. Turnbull considered Chief Donald Ward’s trust an honour and a tremendous responsibility.

          As in the Chinese curse, Turnbull believes the decades since the early 70’s have been “interesting times.”

          “Europeans had to learn to listen to First Nations people, consult them and work with them to establish consensus on their affairs. The system was horribly broken.”

           There is a tone of irritation verging on contempt in Turnbull’s voice as he describes how a “bunch of transplanted Europeans” were making decisions about First Nations affairs, land and culture.

          There was a lengthy period in the late 80’s and the 90’s when nothing much could be done because government policies were opposite to First Nations policies. Parks Canada was willing to build and operate a centre but insisted on owning the land and running the facility. The national museum was willing to sponsor exploration but insisted on taking possession of any artifacts recovered.

          At the same time, First Nations were working out their own consensus on the treatment of burial grounds and archaeological sites.

          Turnbull praises Metepenagiag leadership and participation throughout the exercise that has led to the community owned and operated Metepenagiag Heritage Park. He said it is crucial that the community has the authority, responsibility and accountability for all the decision making.

          He says the process that has made Metepenagiag Heritage Park possible should be a model for all government dealing with First Nations.

          Joe Mike Augustine was instrumental in the discovery of both the Augustine burial mound and the Oxbow community sites.

          Chief Donald Ward was instrumental in establishing an agreement to allow and provide for the respectful treatment of the sites. There will be no exploration of burial sites and the public will not visit either the Augustine Mound or the Oxbow community exploration site.

          Turnbull says Joe Mike embodied Mi’kmaq traditions in how he lived his life.

          “He didn’t lecture. He set the example.

          “His spirit is embodied in Madeline. She is the constant influence from the beginning.”

          He says Chief Noah Augustine is the man who pulled the community together and “worked his magic” to establish consensus. “When he was able to pull together the making of the film “The Village of 30 Centuries,” that brought the project to life,” he says.

          “Next in the continuum of great leadership is Pam Ward who has brought the park into existence,” he says. “Patricia Dunnett has to be on that list too,” he says. “She is carrying a great deal of the weight to interpret the Mi’kmaq culture as the centre develops.”

          Turnbull says Northumberland Miramichi Member of Parliament, Charles Hubbard was a constant supporter of the project “bugging the hell out of Parks Canada.” 


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