Louis Thomas (c. 1766 - c. 1869)

Backgrounder

Louis Thomas, a 19th century Maliseet chief, was instrumental in settling his people in the Lower St. Lawrence region. In 1826, he and his brother Joseph submitted a request to the Governor General of Lower Canada, on behalf of themselves and 96 other individuals living in the St. John River Valley, for a parcel of land to be held in common in Viger Township. The Governor General granted their request with a 1,214 hectare (3,000 acres) concession of land. In 1841, when he was around 75 years old, Louis Thomas became Grand Chief. Through numerous petitions, he repeatedly expressed his attachment to Viger Township and defended the interests and rights of the Maliseet. 

Louis Thomas, also known by the names of Louis Thomas-Saint-Aubin and Louis Saint-Aubin, was in his sixties when he approached the government. At the time, the Maliseet that he and his brother Joseph represented were living in the Saint John River Valley near Woodstock, New Brunswick. In their petition, the brothers stated that their people’s traditional territory was being taken over by Euro-Canadians. As they could no longer ensure their livelihood, the Maliseet that they represented wanted to settle elsewhere. 

Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General, approved the request and, as a political experiment in settlement, granted them 1,214 hectares (3,000 acres) of land in the township of Viger, abutting the seigneury of Isle-Verte, which became part of the province’s reserve system in 1853. The Maliseet settled there in the spring of 1826. As the land in Viger Township became increasingly sought after by Euro-Canadians, Thomas expressed his opposition to the encroachment of Euro-Canadians and the illegal cutting of wood on Maliseet land. By the end of the 1850s, the Maliseet were under great pressure to leave the area. 

Through petitions in 1845, 1848, 1866, and 1868, Louis Thomas expressed his attachment to Viger Township and his determination to protect the rights of the Maliseet. The tone of his demands showed that he had a solid understanding of British and Canadian political issues and testified to a true sense of diplomacy. In 1845, for example, he insisted on his people’s wish to settle in Viger Township and cultivate the land, aware of the Indigenous settlement policy advocated by authorities. In fact, it was between 1845 and 1860, the time when he was chief, that the Maliseet lived on their land on a regular basis. However, following a devastating fire, the concession was gradually abandoned and, in 1870, the land in Viger was sold. In the following decades, the Maliseets were given land in Whitworth and then in Cacouna, which today is the administrative centre of the Maliseet First Nation. 

The date of Louis Thomas’s death is unknown, but it is believed that he was still living in August 1869, when a list was compiled of the people who had rights to the proceeds from the sale of the reserve. Louis Thomas not only influenced the lives of the Maliseet of whom he was Grand Chief, but also made an impression on a good number of his contemporaries, both by his presence and advanced age and by his continued efforts to defend his people with dignity.


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