SYDNEY — An appeal is in the works after Nancy Swan and members of the Bras d’Or Indian Village Band Association were recently denied aboriginal status by the federal government.
As Swan told Local Xpress last year, the group has been trying to gain recognition of its members’ aboriginal heritage, and the family history of some members has been used successfully by some Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland to gain status under the Indian Act.
Swan said Wednesday the registrar of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada recently rejected the group’s claim, saying they had failed to prove their ancestors were ever recorded on the Indian roll.
Swan admitted that is true, but said her antecedents were never put on the list because many were unable to read and write, and most were encouraged to renounce their aboriginal heritage in exchange for favours from the government and to avoid persecution.
The group will appeal the decision because their ancestors were forcibly disenfranchised, she said.
Swan said she and her family members grew up being called Bras d’Or Indians, but it was meant as a slur. That’s one of the reasons early aboriginal people gave up or hid their heritage, and it’s one of the reasons she grew up with a cloud of uncertainty about her own ancestry, she added.
“How would you like to grow up in your community being called an Indian all your life, and there’s something there, you hear talk about Indians and all that around you, and you’re not allowed to know because they’re so afraid of the church and the community?” Swan said. “That’s how disenfranchisement works.”
Genealogical records tie Swan and her family to Francis LeJeune Young — sometimes referred to as Francois LeJeune — a Little Bras d’Or man who has documented Mi’kmaq heritage. That documentation, including a Cape Breton land grant, was recently accepted by the federal government and used in part to qualify some members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The land grant was also used as a method of disenfranchisement because those who wanted land had to give up or hide their ancestry, Swann said.
“Do you think Francois LeJeune had anything to do with writing up that great big land grant document?” said Swan. “He signed with an X. They controlled all the wording of that land grant, and they forced him to change his name to English, Francis Young.
“And what tells the truth is we have the map of the four land grants at Little Bras d’Or. It shows his father down around Mill Creek with 100 acres (under the name) Joseph LeJeune, the old name. There’s his son, Francois LeJeune, on his 470 acres written on the map (as) Francis Young, in English, and two other siblings, John Baptiste and Germaine LeJeune got land down around Georges River in their old name, LeJeune.
“Only Francois, the son, the government was putting pressure on. He was being forced. That’s what they were dealing with.
“The government thought that all this stuff was dead and buried, but the truth has been uncovered.”
The 1818 land grant awarding 190 hectares to Francis LeJeune Young was found in the wall of a nearby home, along with LeJeune Young’s last will and testament. Those documents show he held land running east from the Little Bras d’Or channel, some of which has since been expropriated for the Bras d’Or Elementary School.
In addition to the land grant, Swan and the association have supplied the government other documents that she said bolster their claim.
For example, she said, a 1916 court decision relocating the Membertou First Nation reserve off Kings Road in Sydney refers to Mi’kmaq from North Sydney and Little Bras d’Or who regularly travelled to and stayed at the Kings Road reserve.
Also, an anthropologist and genealogical consultant from New Brunswick studied records dating back to the 1700s from the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre (formerly the Micmac-Maliseet Institute) at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton that indicate the Youngs and LeJeunes of Little Bras d’Or were also of “micmac” heritage.
That genealogist, Dorothy Stewart, also told Local Xpress last year that Swan was related to Francois LeJeune. She said documents show one of Francois and Margaret LeJeune’s children was Francoise LeJeune, who married James Quinn. Bridget, a daughter of Francoise and James, is Swan’s paternal great-grandmother.
And Jasen Benwah, a distant cousin of Swan’s who has Mi’kmaq status in Newfoundland after his ancestors migrated there from Cape Breton more than a century ago, told the New York Times in December he is also descended from Francois LeJeune Young.
“We are related to the same people,” Benwah told The Times. “It’s a recognized family line.”
Earlier this week, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada announced that only 18,044 of the more than 100,000 people who applied have been accepted as founding members of the landless Qalipu First Nation band in Newfoundland.
Swan said members of the Bras d’Or Indian Village Band Association sympathize with those whose applications were rejected.
“We are congratulating our Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters, 18,000 of whom are retaining their Mi’kmaq status, and for the (others who did not), good luck on your journey,” she said.