About the Petitions

This collection consists of petitions, written between 1786 and 1878, relating to land grants in colonial New Brunswick in which Aboriginal people are either the petitioners or their land is the subject of attention.

Little documentation exists in New Brunswick surrounding the early period of Aboriginal-settler interaction in the province. These 90 petitions, located in RS108 at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, offer valuable primary evidence about the experience of First Nations people in the province.

Although the petitions were often written by a clerk, they offer rich details about the individual petitioners and their families. Of the 90 petitions in this collection, 34 relate the experiences of the Julian family. John Julian, the Chief of the Mi’kmaq at Miramichi, filed the first Aboriginal land petition with the government in 1786. In it, he asserts his right and the right of his family to live on their traditional land. His family continued to petition the government for their land until 1848.

Other petitions document the poverty created as a result of government redistribution of land. In 1853, Noel Briot, a Mi’kmaq from Burnt Church reserve (Esgenoopetitj), telegraphed a petition to the governor of New Brunswick, Sir Edmund Head, imploring the government not to grant marsh land within the boundaries of his reserve to non-Aboriginal settlers because it would reduce his people "to extreme poverty." Another petitioner, John F. Eales, recorded the sorrow of Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) women at the loss of their land in 1878. When the Peskotomuhkati women heard that Eales wanted to purchase 100 acres of Peskotomuhkati land, he reported that they fell to their knees and cried, “My Father and grandfather were here long before the white man came and all we claim is Two hundred acres and they have taken it from me! Is there no Justice in the land! They might as well take my hearts blood.” First Nations’ voices punctuate the collection.

In 1841, the government of New Brunswick decided to sell off large portions of Aboriginal reserves to squatters who had either leased the land from Aboriginals or illegally occupied it. The income derived from the sales was to create a permanent fund that would finance the “civilization” of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Peskotomuhkati. Because of this policy, Aboriginal people were forced to relocate to rapidly shrinking reserves. The majority of the petitions in 1841 in this collection are from non-Aboriginal settlers applying for these land grants.