Patricia Bernard was in university majoring in history when she discovered several maps of her community, Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, about 25 years ago and at a time when she wasn’t thinking of a land claim.
But the maps showed the community at varying land sizes – the community had lost land.
“So I dug a little bit deeper and, when I did, I discovered these lands were taken unlawfully,” said Bernard, who is now chief of the community along the Saint John River in New Brunswick.
A few years later, and now a lawyer, Bernard filed a land claim against Canada, leading to the largest land claim settlement in Maritimes history just a few weeks ago when the federal government agreed to pay out $145 million.
The settlement also comes with nearly 783 hectares (1,935 acres) of reserve land, which will be decided upon in the future, said Bernard on Nation to Nation Thursday.
“We will be consulting with the community to determine what type of land and what uses of that is going to be for,” she said, adding the land has to be in New Brunswick.
There was something else Bernard discovered on this journey and that is her great, great, great, great, great grandfather first fought to keep reserve lands about 160 years ago.
After the government had already taken nearly 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land from the reserve an Indian agent came looking for the rest.
The agent met a person name Louis Bernard, who was told he had to leave his land, as the government wanted to give it to settlers.
Louis was 90 years old at the time.
“He decided that couldn’t happen and he travelled from our community to Fredericton, which is about 300 kilometres, by canoe. He hired a magistrate and pleaded with the government not to sell his home,” recalled Bernard.
Louis’s family was buried there dating back several generations.
“He couldn’t believe that the government would do this to him … it must have struck a chord somewhere because that’s when the reserve stopped being diminished in size,” she said.
All these years later, it was Bernard who would pick up the torch to try and get back what had been taken.
“It was a very personal thing for me because he was my ancestor and I was able to find justice continuing up until this day,” she said.
Watch the full episode of N2N below.