Jackie“We always had something that we could survive by because of nature. We had what was put into the rivers and put into the lands by the Lord.  In those days, we didn’t have laws like we have today - you have laws people can’t cope with because you have mostly a new law created every day and those laws are effecting a whole lot of poor people.” 

[John Jackie Vautour was interviewed by Dr. Marilyn Walker and Emile Gautreau in Pointe Sapin on March 18th, 2012. This section was transcribed by Gillian Scott, a student in Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Jackie Vautour is Grand Chief of the Métis of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.]

Jackie: My family name is Fontaine, so that’s how the name of the place became Claire and Clairefontaine – Fontaine and Clairefontaine… I was factually born in Saint John, New Brunswick and my mother and father moved from there to the area of Fontaine.

My father was from Fontaine and Fontaine Creek, that’s what it was named, and my mother, she was from Kelly Beach, Kouchibouguac. And we, I remember… I think I was somewhere around four or five years old or something like that, we had a house, and it burned down, and then just a distance from where I am living now, and then my father bought the area where I am living at present, and that was in 1934.

So I’ve been on that land since 1934 off and on because I went out working in different areas. My first work at fourteen years old, I was working in the Moosehead Brewery in Fairville, New Brunswick. And there’s this side of Saint John – Fairville - and I worked there for about a year and a half. And then from there, I went on to the north shores of Quebec. I worked in the lumber camps, on the North Shores. I worked in Bay Cuomo.

I was working very hard work there in on the north shores of Quebec, because the mountains, we were not used to working lumbering in the mountains. The Quebecers, it was okay for them because they could cut trees and make then them fall against the mountains but mostly when we would cut a tree it would fall over down the mountain, so we would lose a lot of our lumber that we were cutting.

But anyhow, I worked there and I also worked in Trinity Bay, Quebec. So at one time there was a laugh about this because I was speaking to a guy from Newfoundland and when I spoke to him, saying that I was working Trinity Bay cutting lumber, he had to laugh because in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland there is no lumber seemingly, I think it is a place of rock, so from there, it was a laugh for him anyway, until we understood each other.

So, from there, I came back to New Brunswick, and I met my little wife and she was living across the bridge from me, just a short distance. In the beginning when I had known her earlier, I didn’t like her very much, seemingly because we were brought up as children together, and sometimes you dislike someone or whatever, but anyhow, I got to like her and in fact really love her. And we got married. I married in 1951 on December the 1st, and from that day we’ve been living together.
It’s quite a little life that we had and before… When I was younger, my parents were quite poor, and my father actually, he had asthma, and so he was in bed a whole lot of time, real sick with asthma, and at that time they just had a sort of a powder to be able to help him out with the asthma. I can remember very well, he’d have to bend over into that powder and smell that smoke coming out of that powder. And we had a very, very hard life, because there was seven children in our family, and it was very hard for us.

   Jackie's wife, Yvonne Vautour
 

Jackie's wifeSo I, where I’m living now, after I got around to doing things, we had gardens, we had potato fields.  I had potato fields on my land, and I’d sell the potatoes to the peoples around the area, so they’d buy potatoes from me, and we had very large gardens. As you see it today, the land, you don’t see it the same way it was, because it’s all grown up into trees and bushes and whatever. But that was a very large area, and opened up fields, and today you can’t see that anymore.

My grandfather, he was a farmer, and you can’t see that from the main road, because there was a road going in another distance, about three quarters of a mile in back, and then my grandfather he had a farm, and he had cattle, and he had cows and horses, pigs and sheep. He had a whole lot of things there, and he’d help us out, because like I said my father was very sick and ill all the time, and my grandfather would help us out a lot, because of the farm he had. So, we were able to live and survive among things anyway.

Then there was always a bit of fishing in the area, so we did some as we got a little older. We did some fishing, and, right by my home, we could fish with a hook and line and we’d fish what you’d call flounders I think, or tommy cods or whatever, and also smelts.

So we always had something that we could survive by, because of nature. We had what was put into the rivers and put into the lands, and, we’d be able to get a hold of… in those days we didn’t have laws like we have today. Today, you have laws people can’t cope with, because, you have, mostly a new law created every day and those laws are effecting a whole lot of poor people.  If you, if you go out and try to get a moose to have meat to put on the table, you’re breaking the law. To my thinking of it, this is not fair for poor people at least. If you go out and try to get a fish out of the river, they say, “No you’re not allowed to do this, the law says you cannot do that.” So there again it’s those laws that should not be applied to poor people, and by saying that, there are laws that should not be applied because the rich people, they don’t have to go out there and do that, and they don’t have to go and get maybe a deer or a moose, or to go out fishing and get a fish to put on the table; they don’t have to do that.

Where the poor people, in my times, and it’s still in today’s time, it’s something that the poor people can use to survive with, and there are some people, and many, not some.  But I’d say many people that have nothing many days, have nothing on the table to be able to feed themselves with. So if they could go out to get something, get a fish, or get a piece of meat from a deer or a moose, and, to help them to survive, you know. There are children out there that are mostly starving because of the laws that’s created, and because of those certain laws that should not be applied at all to poor people. They are there, and as we go, there’s more laws that’s created that affects the people.

Remembering back, remembering back a way back, I remember at one time, my father was always sick and ill, and he’d be…it would cause him to be temporized, and back in 19…, I think it was 1934-35 maybe, the time at what they called the relief, and what they could get at that time would be a little can of shortening I think, and maybe a gallon of molasses, and one sack of flour, and a few little things, very few things, and in order to survive a whole month, and with a family, you can imagine what sort of a way that they had to go through. And I remember him, and he said to my mother, he says: “I’m going to get something, we’re out of everything”, and he says: “I’m going to get something”, and what he had, because he was a man who never had a gun in the house, he put a knife on him, and he says: “If I cannot get food, I’m not coming back”, so I remember that, and I never forgot that – those words.

But that is what happens to people, and in a country like we have today, and we had, we always had. We have a country that’s full of resources that could’ve brought economic things not only to those who have it, but to all people of this country, and the resources could’ve furnished for all the people to be very well off, but, it was kept by some, taken away, and taken away from us; there was no sharing, there’s nothing. So, it’s all belonged to just a few. And that’s very sad because when you look at people of today, after those hundreds of years of being taken over by governors or governments, and then they handed over to corporations, to big companies, and they put in billions and billions of dollars, and stacked it away, and there are so many that have nothing.

So there’s no sharing and never was since the creation of government.  The creation of the Lord did a different thing, but these people that came in, they said well, okay, we’re going to take this over.  At the beginning they were sort of welcome by the natives, but then afterwards they began doings things that the natives couldn’t endure, so we know when we read history. We know what happened to our people, and from then on, it just kept on and on and on, and it got bigger, and bigger with governors and governments. And then you take, for example, here in New Brunswick - and I don’t have to name them, we all know them, but they got millions and millions of acres of land. And who owned those lands in order to give to those people those millions of acres of land? We have to question all this…

HouseSome people say well, when we question that, some people say well, they create jobs. But to me, that creation of jobs… We have to look back to what did it give to most of the people? It gave them enough to be able to survive, put bread on the table. Why did they not share those lands that belong to no one? Why was it not shared? And why are we not able to equalize things in that regard? Large companies, corporations, they were able to be able to obtain from the land of the Lord, millions of acres, while some people, and I remember well, and it happened to me also…  In order to cut one or two cords of wood, firewood, we’d have to go out and get a permit from the government. We’d have to have a permit to cut a couple of cords of firewood in order to heat up the stove.  Those are just a few examples. But when you look at those things and see how it’s being handled and how they operate, and see the poor, the poor people that’s on the face of this earth and here in New Brunswick, where they developed ways among all those companies in order to hire people. The hiring of people, to me, was more of a scam than anything else, because they say okay, we have millions of acres of land and they say we’re going to give you a job.

ShedIn older days, our people had to go out with what they call a bucksaw and an axe, and go chop down trees, and cut up trees in order to have a few dollars. Just in order to be able to survive very poorly, while the companies reaped in millions and stacked it away. So then, we are in same situations today, nothing has changed today.

It began way back and continues to be worse and worse with governments, the way they handle people, and if it reminds me of one thing. I was listening over the radio about what happened in the reserves and it’s [shakes head] hard to pronounce, it’s a reserve in Ontario, and see how those people were put in those sort of situations? And  if you look way back further, they were the First People, as we are, so how come things like that continue today after four hundred years? You have the takeover of governors and governments, and all of us I suppose, here have read of how these things came about.

So it’s very hard to accept. There are some people who do not want even to think about it, but yet when you speak to them about these things you can tell by their action – reaction, that these things, they know that everything was wrong and keeps on being wrong. So how then can it change?

We, being called Métis, because that’s what we are, and we are descendants from the First Nations people, and we are having a very hard time in order to be able to have it understood by government that we are Métis. Factually, when I speak of governments, I have to have a temper in me because of what I had to go through.

And I say, “Are those governments going to allow our people to have our rights recognized, our culture, and recognize who we are? Or are they just going to try to continue to assimilate us into another culture? I’m not very proud of government’s action, and not only the government’s, but proud at all, of the way lawyers act in these matters. I’m not proud at all, the way the courts act in these matters. I’m not proud of the judges I’ve had to go before and the way they acted. I’m not proud at all of the system itself. The system that we are living in has pronounced ourselves corrupt to me; we are in a corrupted system. We look at and we hear what’s going on in other countries, [shakes head] and I hope this country doesn’t come to that.

To my understanding, someday, maybe not in my time, but someday we’re going to fall in the same situations because of the action of government and the way they act. We have what we call a constitution of prepared laws, our great prepared laws under the constitution, which is supposedly to give us certain justice. I tried before the courts in order to present certain sections of the constitution, but when I tried to do that, the Crown would try to shy me away from that, and when you understand, when you see those things happening, well then you have to question what really, what really is the meaning of, of the whole system?