Forced to leave

The story of a Mi’kmaw forced into exile, as told by his great-great-grandson…

Peter Jeddore was my Great Grandfather. He died many years before I was born but I grew up hearing many stories of him. This is my attempt at explaining the events that unfolded between his father – Noel Geodol – and the priest at the time, and which eventually led to my great-great-grandfather’s exile to Nova Scotia. The story I have written is a collection of the stories I was told over the years, compiled in an attempt to tell it through the eyes of a man who watched this very historical event unfold.

My name is Piel, or Peter Jeddore. I was born in the summer of 1892 to Noel and Dinah Geodol. I remember there were still wigwams down on the point – you don’t see them around here anymore except a scatter one up on the country. Dad used to spell his last name different because he never got too good with the English language, he just heard his father say it that way and the French say that we are supposed to spell our names J-E-D-D-O-R-E. I guess they know best, but I know for a fact our last name wasn’t always like that, it was changed over generations, but that’s a different story for a different time. I suppose you want to know about my father and how he was forced into exile to Nova Scotia back in the 1920’s. Well I’ll do my best to tell it, from what I remember. It was some time ago.

You see, Mi’kmaq people have been devout Catholics for a long time, since the 1600’s. But before that we had our own beliefs. A younger fellow from here, Nickley, used to say that before we were Christian, we were nearly invincible, not even bullets could harm us. But when we were converted we became very weak. Believe what you will from it, but it still demonstrates how some of us felt about this religion. But beside the point, despite what some felt about it, we are still very religious people.

My father was the Saqmaw, or chief, of the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland. He used to wear this medal, first given to Maurice Lewis who came here originally from Cape Breton in 1815. Sometimes he’d wear the medal in church and everyone would come up and kiss it. I don’t know why – maybe to demonstrate the respect they had for the chief. Well, being religious people, my father was not only the chief but the prayer leader, too. He’d hold service in our church, his home, wherever he could. Back in those days the priest wouldn’t get down much, so he gave us books written in Komqwej wi’kasikl which is how we wrote before they taught us the English way of writing.

The priest

In 1916, a priest named Father St. Croix came to Bay d’Espoir. He was the permanent priest for this region. He lived in St. Albans and held church up there. We were very excited to have him come here; a couple of us went up to bring him down on a sled. We situated ourselves in pairs across the bay, two men met him at his door and began pulling him across the ice, and as they traveled towards Conne other men joined in and helped pull him until they got to the church. That’s how faithful and respectful we were. Whenever the priest was needed in Conne, we’d go up and get him. Eventually we started using horses to pull him across the ice, as they got more popular around here. As time went on though, things started to change.

Father St. Croix didn’t like a lot of the things we did in church and where we held service. He didn’t want us to have church here in Conne, neither at dad’s house nor the church. He wanted us to go up to St. Albans to attend church, which was kind of odd to me, since we built the first Church in Bay d’Espoir, here in Conne River in the 1870’s. He also didn’t like how we spoke Mi’kmaq in church, either. See in that time, basically all we spoke was Mi’kmaq, especially in the Church, because that’s how we always did it. My uncle Joe said Father St. Croix thought we were mocking god, in a way. What he meant, I’ll never understand. The prayer books we were originally given by the missionaries were all in Mi’kmaq, so why are we now mocking God? Either way, despite him looking down on how we worshipped God, we continued to do it, mainly because my father deeply believed there was nothing wrong with what we were doing and continued to hold service here in Conne.

The prayer books we were originally given by the missionaries were all in Mi’kmaq, so why are we now mocking God?

Well, tensions kept rising between my father and the priest, so one day Noel had a sort of community meeting to address the issue. Everyone had their say, and amongst it all, my father mentioned something along the lines of “if we stopped speaking mi’kmaq in the church, there would be murder in our hearts.” At face value, this seems straight forward, but words can get shifted around quite easily. Story goes that someone left the meeting and went up to see the priest and said, “Father, Noel is down in Conne talking about murder!” Well, that got the priest pretty scared, so he told the man to go back to Conne and send up Noel, himself. Instead of sending up Noel, that man went door to door and told them that the priest wanted to see them! Being men of faith, many started making the trek across the bay to see what the priest wanted.

Well, the priest looked out his window and saw a group of men coming up across the ice. This scared the priest even more and he sent a few men from St. Albans down to try and calm the group down and to send me up, to see him. So I went up to see the priest and explain the whole mishap. He told me that he had already sent a message off to the Mounties and that they were coming to arrest my father for conspiracy to commit murder. He told me that I had to go down and give Noel a choice: either get sent to jail for a long time, or leave the island forever.

Imagine the difficulty I had in giving my own father this ultimatum. It was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life.

I hope someday our children will once again speal the language like we did, before it all seemed to fall apart.

My father was devastated when he got the news. The whole family and some of the community got together at the house and discussed the events that had just unfolded. After some time, my father came to a decision: he would leave Newfoundland and move to Eskasoni, a Mi’kmaq reserve in Cape Breton that had very close ties to our community. Father did not go alone, though. There were a number of people from our community that chose to go with him for reasons we can only speculate about now. I remember that before my father left, he took that medal I mentioned earlier and placed it around our statue of St. Anne, the patron saint of the Mi’kmaq people and said: “I go, but the medal, it stays here now.” That medal stayed there for a long time. I was asked to become chief later and I helped the community as much as I could, but I never wore that medal. Antle Joe was next in line for traditional chief, but he too declined and never wore that medal. I believe it was more than just my father that left the community that day. Mi’kmaq was spoken less and less in church, and in the schools people began using the English language more frequently. Eventually the only place you’d hear it spoken usually was on the country, but that, too, slowly faded. Many people attribute the slow loss of our language to different factors, but I believe this incident involving my father played a role in it, as well. I hope someday our children will once again speak the language like we did, before it all seemed to fall apart.

My great-grandfather’s medal was not worn again until 1980 when Grand Chief Donald Marshall appointed William Joe as the traditional Saqamaw: chief of our people for life. After Noel left, the language experienced a descent to near extinction, but over the past two decades, there have been initiatives to reestablish the Mi’kmaq language in our community through school courses and classes for adults. We have fortunately experienced a very significant growth in the language over this time, which gives us all hope for the future of our culture.

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