Well, here we stand at week three of Mi’kmaq History Month – how time flies! Last we met, I took us on a rather lengthy jaunt through the Island’s history of Mi’kmaq contact with Europeans (see First Contact). I closed with a reference to how, once the British finally took control of Prince Edward Island, they chose to simply ignore the Mi’kmaq who remained resident here and who were attempting (in vain) to maintain their traditional way of life. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and not everyone was content to sit idly by and do nothing. I thought that today we would take a look at two notable examples – rebels with a cause, you might say.
One of these rebels was a man by the name of Theophilus Stewart, who in the mid-19th century served as one of two Indian Commissioners for the Island’s government. I mentioned last week how the British entirely dispossessed the Mi’kmaq of their traditional territory, in effect turning them into squatters. Well, Stewart took it upon himself to right that wrong. One of his ideas in particular would come to have a massive impact on the lifestyle of the Island’s Mi’kmaq, an impact that continues into the present. So what did he do? You’ll have to check out Alan A. MacEachern’s 1990 article in issue 28 (Fall/Winter) of The Island Magazine for the details:
Operating a shade earlier than Theophilus Stewart, and meeting with next to no success in his endeavour, was another well-meaning individual by the name of Thomas Irwin. A land surveyor out of Rollo Bay, it was perhaps owing to his disadvantaged Irish Catholic background that he became perturbed by the destitute state of the Island’s Mi’kmaq under British government. He became especially fixated with preserving their language and promoting their education, and for nearly twenty years throughout the 1830s and 1840s, he tried and failed to champion their cause. You can read up on his story, courtesy of L.F.S. Upton, in the third issue of The Island Magazine (Fall/Winter 1977):
Well, that’s my bit for today. See you on Friday, when we take to the skies (literally) for another instalment in our Women’s History Month series!
PEI History Guy
P.S. – The featured image for this post is taken from a colourized postcard and depicts a Mi’kmaq family, likely taken sometime in the late 19th century.