Moses Perley

Moses Perley was born in Maugerville in 1804 to a pre-Loyalist family of British descent but spent most of his life as a lawyer and businessman in Saint John. An avid outdoorsman and sportsman, Perley's experience hunting, fishing, and trading with the Maliseet people living along the St. John River gave him an appreciation for the problems facing New Brunswick's Aboriginal peoples and an interest in their welfare (an interest that was heightened after he accidently killed an Aboriginal man in 1822 during a target practice). Because of his knowledge of and connections to the colony's Aboriginal people, Perley was named New Brunswick’s "Commissioner of Indian Affairs" around 1841.

After visiting the colony's Maliseet and Mi'kmaq settlements, he submitted a report in 1842 in which he protested the encroachment of non-Aboriginal squatters on reserved land. He was, however, not wholly opposed to settler intrusion on reserved land. Perley was careful to distinguish between "lawful settlers," who had made arrangements with the bands to rent or purchase reserved land, and "lawless squatters" who had pounced on reserve land to the deprivation of its rightful owners. Perley recommended that the government hold reserved land in trust for the Aboriginals, prosecute and evict squatters, and use profits from the lawful sale of land to support Aboriginal agriculture and education. The government responded favourably to these recommendations, as did the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet who, for his efforts, named Perley an honorary chief.

Perley played a major role in the crafting of the Indian Act of 1844 but was highly critical of the final result, arguing that it was inadequate to remove squatters and that the profit from the sale of reserved land would benefit the government, not the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet. The government dismissed his concerns but subsequent years would prove him right, and Perley had been given a position through which he could publicly argue this. As Indian Commissioner for Saint John County, Perley was frequently called upon to assist with Aboriginal affairs in other districts. This gave him the opportunity to continue to condemn the abuse of reserves by squatters, the government's reluctance to evict them, and the selling of reserved land for profit. Perley's public criticisms made him an unpopular figure in Fredericton, and in 1848 he was dismissed from his position. Perley remained a public servant, however, working in positions dealing with New Brunswick's immigration, natural resource, trade, and fishing policies until his death in 1862.