The Settlement of Viger by the Maliseet

Backgrounder

In 1826, the Maliseet living in the Saint John River Valley presented a request to the authorities of Lower Canada for a parcel of land to be reserved for their use. The government responded favourably to their request and granted them, collectively, a concession located in their traditional hunting grounds in Viger Township, abutting the seigneury of Isle-Verte. This was the first land grant in Lower Canada under the government’s nascent Indigenous settlement policy. It was in a sense a precursor to the Indian reserves that would be created in this province in 1853. 

This region was well-known to the Maliseet, as the Lower St. Lawrence was part of their traditional territory. Accounts dating back to the 18th century record their presence in the area around Témiscouata, Rivière-du-Loup, Isle-Verte, and Trois-Pistoles. Their way of life, based on hunting, fishing and gathering, required frequent moves according to the availability of resources. 

The 1826 concession of 1,214 hectares (3,000 acres) was part of an experiment. At the time, the government was working to implement a plan aimed at settling and assimilating Indigenous Peoples. It was hoped that they could be grouped in villages and given land that they could cultivate to meet their needs. The reserve system of this province was fully launched in the early 1850s, when laws were enacted to protect or reserve land for Indigenous Peoples. 

The Maliseet settled in Viger Township in the spring of 1826 and began to clear the land. In three years, they had cleared and sowed 28 hectares (70 acres). From 1830 to 1845, however, they did not live on the concession, returning only sporadically. Following this period, they settled there on a more regular basis for a few years and, in 1860, the Maliseet had cultivated 125 hectares (309 acres) in Viger Township. However, following a serious fire and in reaction to pressure from the local population, the Maliseet virtually abandoned the concession. They lived on the reserve, but did not use it in the way the government had intended. During this time, the number of Euro-Canadian farms grew quickly and the land in Viger Township became increasingly sought after by the non-Indigenous population. At the end of the 1850s, the Maliseet were put under great pressure to leave. Finally, they relinquished the land to the Crown in in 1869 and the land was sold in 1870. 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.


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