White man's burden: the shame of Indian Point


The parking lot on St. Andrews’ Indian Point must be the best RV park in North America. I mean, where else can an RVer get a front row space on the oceanfront with a 270-degree sunrise to sunset view of the Bay of Fundy?

No wonder that the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Indians considered Qonasqamkuk, their name for Indian Point, to be a sacred place, which was, in fact, a well-known native burial ground for Passamaquoddy chiefs. It was here that these Indians first met Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain over 400 years ago. It was from here that the Passamaquoddies went out to rescue Champlain and his starving settlers on Saint Croix Island that winter. 

And it seems to have been trouble ever since for the Passamaquoddy people.

This place comes into focus once again as the town council of St. Andrews has once again considered the possibility of allowing a housing development on the site. It seems that the concept of who gets to settle on the point has never been resolved.

The Loyalists, escaping the American Revolution by way of Nova Scotia, came to the area in 1780 or so, and agreed to pay the Passamaquoddies 25 pounds a year rent to stay at Qonasqamkuk, which they promptly renamed St. Andrews. And reneged on paying the rent. Less than five years went by before the newcomers chopped down a big cross marking the sacred native burial ground on the point and a complaint was lodged by the Indians to the government.

Most of the Passamaquoddy people then packed up and moved across the U.S. border to Pleasant Point, where they remain to this day. By the early 1900s the Town of St. Andrews sanctioned construction on the original burial ground, disturbing the sacred site. Some time later, the sweet grass field—an important traditional native resource on Indian Point—was destroyed (in an act amounting to high irony) to create the town’s sewage lagoon, which was recently upgraded with a multi-million dollar expansion in 2009.

One family remained connected to Qonasqamkuk, specifically, the 100 acres of Indian Point. That group is the Akagi family, the product of marriage between a Japanese man and a half-Passamaquoddy woman who had remained on the land and maintained historical Passamaquoddy claim on the place. Today, the Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Hugh Akagi, and his extended family, still live of the site.

Local gossip has it that over decades the Akagis were put under considerable pressure to give up their land to the town, including as I’ve heard it said, a threat to take their children away if they did not comply. In any event, the Akagi families stayed intact and the town secured title of the land—land that the townspeople had never leased, purchased or legally acquired at any point in time.

By the early 1990s development, perhaps to raise tax revenues, was much on the minds of some local town councilors. In 1992 they took the Passamaquoddies to court to secure “quiet title” of the 100 acres of Indian Point, a case which they won, leaving the Akagi family just 7 acres.

Throughout the rest of the decade the town council was approached to develop high-end housing on the point. Each time the proposals failed. Finally, the Kiwanis Club was more successful in its proposal to build the famous RV park on the oceanfront—which rather conveniently generates a lot of profit, a good chunk of which goes directly to the Town of St. Andrews every year. So the point has been repurposed from sacred burial ground to sacred cash cow.

Fast forward to this year. Another housing development proposal landed on the town council’s agenda. Councillor Mary Myers worked diligently to get council to put Indian Point into a “public land trust” for the people of St. Andrews to enjoy in perpetuity. One has to wonder how the Akagi family and the rest of the remaining Passamaquoddy people feel about her patronizing gesture.

And just how should we feel about it? Well, native peoples across Canada have been working directly with the federal government on treaties for the last 200 years or more. Land claims, both historical and recent, have been negotiated and many settled. But here in this lost corner of New Brunswick the entire issue seems to have been rendered invisible and irrelevant by the Loyalists and their ancestors who still run the place. It’s as if the Passamaquoddies had never existed, except for presence of their name on the bay lapping on the town’s waterfront.

If we were a moral and honorable people what should happen would be exactly opposite to what has already happened. The 100 acres of land should be returned, immediately, to the Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. The federal and provincial governments should generously contribute a hundred or more millions of dollars to the tribe to make restitution for the theft of the St. Andrews town site and occupying it illegally for 227 years.

I am sure they would be as good or better stewards of that land than we’ve been, what with our building of sewage lagoons and RV parking lots.

Of course, many long-term residents of St. Andrews might think this solution is outrageous. But imagine how we would feel if a wave of foreigners came and took over all the best available land around our town? Would we be as gracious as the Akagis and Passamaquoddies have been?

Given our history I highly doubt it. 


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