Indigenous leaders are reeling from the loss of three local historians who they considered allies in their fight for justice.
Bill Parenteau and Elizabeth Mancke, both of whom taught at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, and Brian Cuthbertson, a researcher and author in Halifax, all died within the last four months of natural causes.
The three scholars were part of a team that helped Matawaskiye (Madawaska Maliseet First Nation) win a federal tribunal case that proved its historical reserve land had been stolen by settlers.
In April 2021, the community of about 350 people in northwestern New Brunswick was awarded the largest federal land claim settlement in Maritime history – $145 million.
“I’m absolutely shocked and saddened,” said Andrea Bear Nicholas, an Indigenous historian from Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation), who testified, along with the team, to prove the case heard by a federal judge in an Edmundston hotel in 2017. “They were totally invaluable. They picked it up and ran with it, and did so much background research, each bringing their own expertise to the matter. I don’t think we would have got anywhere without them.”
Chief Patricia Bernard said Tuesday her community would consider how to honour the team at their next council meeting, likely next week.
“We were a great team and worked really well together,” she told Brunswick News. “It saddens me, and it’s a great loss for our community.”
Bernard, a lawyer, led the efforts for the case to be heard. She knew Cuthbertson best because they’d worked together on several Indigenous land claims before she was chief, going back 20 years. She also wrote the foreword to his last book, Stubborn Resistance: New Brunswick Maliseet and Mi’kmaq in Defense of their Lands, published in 2015. The retired army major and historian died on July 15, 2023, age 87.
However, the chief also got to know the other two, first Parenteau, who did a lot of the early work in the case but had to step away due to illness, and then Mancke, who picked up where he left off and provided days of gruelling testimony as Ottawa tried to reject their arguments.
“They provided written reports of the history of the reserve, the events that were occurring at the time, what the government would have had in mind when it created the reserve and why it was taken away,” the chief said. “It was quite a journey. The historical research they did for the claim covered almost a 100-year period. And it wasn’t just specific to the reserve but told what was happening around the world at the time, with the French, the British, the Spanish and the American Revolution. So it was quite a history and quite in depth.”
Both the chief and Bear Nicholas said it was especially sad that a fourth member of the team, Clifford Lawrence of Hampton, died shortly after presenting a key historical map that he had found that showed the true reserve lands, another clincher in the case.
Parenteau, originally from Rhode Island, moved between Fredericton and Ottawa during his academic career, and eventually became a prof at UNB in 2000 where he taught courses on Atlantic Canada and Canadian history, as well as on sport, natural resources, and the environment, and supervised more than 20 graduate theses.
He died this month at the age of 63 after a lengthy illness, waiting for an organ donation, according to his obituary.
Mancke, born and raised in the United States, came to UNB in 2012 as Canadian Research Chair in Atlantic Canadian Studies and professor in the department of history. The author and editor of five books was recognized with a UNB Merit Award for her outstanding contributions to teaching, research and university service in 2020.
Mancke died Sept. 15 after a brief illness with cancer, in her late 60s.
Brunswick News interviewed the two scholars in January about the landmark Madawaska case and both talked passionately about the importance of righting historical wrongs and seeking reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
Bear Nicholas says she remembers how instrumental they were in helping Indigenous students at the university, including a young man who has since gone on to study his doctorate.
“Bill and Elizabeth were so interested in our issues,” said Bear Nicholas, who taught for 20 years at St. Thomas University and is now a professor emeritus. “They were so personally supportive of our work in Native studies and our struggles with the courts.”
The chief said she had been hoping to lean on the scholars for two important upcoming cases: claiming lost reserve lands on the United States side of the border, and the huge title claim of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick, for much of the western half of the province.
“It’s unfortunate because we have more claims moving forward, and we were hoping to use their expertise. When these people pass, it’s such a great loss and we can only hope they’ve passed on enough knowledge for the next generation to carry on.”
By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 18, 2023 at 12:02