Jim John on the Gander River, a full page ad in MacLean’s magazine May 2, 1977 issue.
From the Dept. of Tourism, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, it reads in part:
“The Original. Micmac Indian guide JIm John Jr., like his father before him, is a legend in his own time. He poles a Gander River boat, unique to this area of Newfoundland, in search of splendid salmon and the mighty moose.”
On MacLean’s website recently, I saw “free access to archives for a limited time”. A quick search and I found a Newfoundland tourism ad I’d wanted to see for many years.
Tony John had told me about the ad. But he didn’t have a copy, and neither did anyone else. But he remembered what it said, and the implications. And I remembered what he said. ‘The government calls Jim a ‘Micmac guide’. Then they tells us we’re not aboriginal.’
Irony in advertising
Tony was Jim John’s nephew. He also had been president of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and chief of the Glenwood Mi’kmaq Band Council. So Tony well knew the irony of the ad in light of political reality.
Provincial governments argued against official recognition of Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland before and after the date of this ad. The province even commissioned a study to rebut the FNI and Conne River Band Council’s 1980 land claim statement to the federal government. Albert Jones’ Assessment and Analysis of the Micmac Land Claim in Newfoundland was released in 1982.
Despite provincial opposition, Conne River received status under the Indian Act in 1984 and became the Miawpukek reserve. A few years later, individuals closely related to living Miawpukek band members could apply for “off-reserve” status. Other families and communities, however, still had nothing until Qalipu, a landless Indian Act band, was created in 2008.
Johns of Glenwood
Jim John Sr. and his wife Helen Benoit were from Conne River. They settled in Glenwood in the early 1900s. Their children were Norah, Louis, Catherine, Gertrude, Gregory (Tony’s dad), Harry, Michael, Theresa, Philomena, Jim Jr., and Delphine.
I remember going on the Gander River with Jim and his cousins. He pointed out every landmark and every tricky bit of water. He knew them all. Jim knew the river like the back of his hand. All his siblings, especially Harry, did too.
Boats & Builders has more on Gander River boats. Dennis Bartels’ chapter in Native People, Native Land, written in the 1980s, gives a sense of the political times in Newfoundland (Amazon below). My Qalipu Band of the Mi’kmaq Nation looks back to those years.