Indigenous Arts & Stories - A Blessing in Disguise

A Blessing in Disguise

2011 - Writing Winner

This day would mark the beginning of an incident that happened here in Listuguj. Something happened here in Listuguj that day, a very violent and scary thing. That day, on June 11th 1981, there was a raid to put an end to salmon fishing done by the Mi’gmaq in the Restigouche River.

Read Mary-Beth Wysote's A Blessing in Disguise

Mary-Beth Wysote

Listuguj, QC
Age 15

Author's Statement

I chose to write about the raids that had happened in June of 1981 in my home community Listuguj. The purpose of the raids was to put an end to salmon fishing in by the Mi’gmaq in the Restigouche River. I chose to write about this and think it is a very inspirational story to other aboriginal communities dealing with similar obstacles such as hunting and fishing activities being restricted and/or limited by law. For us salmon has always and always will remain a vital part of our heritage. Listuguj, my home community, is located in Quebec right alongside the Restigouche River. Listuguj has a dark period of time in history. The Mi’gmaqs of Listuguj have managed to overcome this particular obstacle and are still continuing to succeed in spite of it. They have made their own laws for fishing salmon that are still in effect today. The Restigouche River has also been recognized as one of the best managed rivers in Quebec because of these laws that were passed by the Mi’gmaq of Listuguj.

I told the story through the eyes of my aunt, a very important person in my life who inspired me to write this little account of events that happened in June 1981 on my little community. These events are probably the most violent actions taken towards first nations in many, many years but had positive effects.


A Blessing in Disguise

The day started just like any other. The old sun woke up from his peaceful slumber and took his place high in the sky. There were birds that sang merrily to all below, flying around and the blue skies above were crystal clear. It was just another beautiful day here in Listuguj, Quebec. The only thing different about this day was that it would end in anger, confusion and pain. This day would mark the beginning of an incident that happened here in Listuguj. Something happened here in Listuguj that day, a very violent and scary thing. That day, on June 11th 1981, there was a raid to put an end to salmon fishing done by the Mi’gmaq in the Restigouche River.

I was about 13 years old back then and even though it was a long time ago the memories I have from that day are still fresh and vivid. I can remember sitting in the kitchen talking with my mother while she was peeling potatoes and hearing a distant and repetitive thumping sound coming from outside. As the noise got louder, so too did my curiosity. I went out onto my porch to see what the noise was coming from. I looked up and to my surprise saw several helicopters scattered across the sky that I knew were flying way too low. I was confused and did not know what was going on. My mother came out moments later and as soon as she saw the helicopters she ran back into the house and called her friend to find out what was going on. My mother got off the phone and before she walked out the door she said “Stay here Glenda. I will be right back” I could hear the uneasiness in her voice and was beginning to feel a little nervous. I went back into the house and covered my ears because the noise from the helicopters was very loud now. After she was gone I saw a glimpse of blue and red flashing lights out of the corner of my eye and looked outside the window to see if it was a police car. It was, and there were many more of them parked nearby. Even though I was scared and my mother had told me not to, I went outside to see what was going on. I went to the road and saw the Quebec Provincial Policemen marching along. They were beating and arresting people. They had no mercy for anyone. They were seizing and confiscating each and every net they saw and were towing boats. They had boats in the water, cars on the roads and helicopters in the sky. The atmosphere was tense and heavy. “How could such a beautiful day turn so ugly so fast?” I thought to myself.

Scared, I ran back home where I waited for my parents to come home. I was really starting to worry where they were and grew more scared with each passing minute. A couple hours later when the noise of the helicopters had died down and most of the police had left, they came back. My father came back with cuts on his hands and bruises on his arms and my mother had a look on her face that I had never seen before.She looked terrified. Some Q.P.P’s had went to his garage and took my father’s nets and when he grabbed them to take them back, one of them hit his arms with a long black stick repeatedly until he let go. Later that night they sat me down and told me everything that was going on.

It turns out that the Quebec Minister Of Fisheries had sent a telex on June 9th, 1981 to the Chief Of Listuguj, Alphonse Metallic, demanding that all nets used for fishing salmon were to be removed no later than June 10th, 1981 at midnight. June 10th came and there were still six nets that had been left in the Restigouche River by six very proud Mi’gmaqs who believed in asserting their rights. The Minister knew he could not stop them and so he sent people that could. Under the Quebec Government he issued a raid. On June 11th, 1981 he sent over five-hundred Quebec Provincial Police, game wardens and fisheries officers to seize all of our nets and boats and to make sure we would not fish salmon until further notice.

When I found out what was going on I was deeply angered. We Mi’gmaq understand the balance of life very well. We have been fishing salmon in the Restigouche River for hundreds of years. For us, the salmon has not only been a big part of our culture and identity but has also served as an essential source of food and income. We share a special relationship with the salmon and would never take more than we needed; we always left some for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Yet when the number of salmon declined considerably we were the first to be blamed. The Quebec Minister of Fisheries strongly believed that it was solely our fault that the number of salmon was declining at an alarming rate and that was when he sent the telex.

A second raid followed at a later date on June 20th, 1981 because the Mi’gmaq’s of Listuguj were still fishing. But this time we were prepared. I did not go oustide at all that day.This time the people in my community would fight back, and this time they had others to help them. Other first nations from across Canada came to Listuguj to help protest. Then the raid started. The Q.P.Ps and game wardens came just as last time on their helicopters, cars and boats but this time they would leave much sooner. During the second raid people in the community began to realize that violence could not be a long term solution. They thought of another solution which would prove to be the long term solution that they needed. They would fight back not with violence but with governance.

The Mi’gmaq of Listuguj had met with the government on several occasions to reslove this issue, and after many meeting and carful planning we came up with our own law and regulations. These requests to have our own laws and regulations have been granted to us because we had an inherited right to fish salmon long before any federal and provincial governments.

Those events that happened had changed Listuguj forever. We’ve overcome this obstacle and have turned it into a stepping stone that would lead us to success. Eventually all charges against those that were arrested during the raids were overturned after they went to the Quebec Superior Court. Finally peace and quiet have come across this community again. I think the events that happened that June has made Listuguj a stronger community. It was a blessing in diguise. This was probably the most violent act towards first nations in many years but it has had a positive effect on my community. It made us assert our rights and make our own laws and regulations regarding the salmon. Today the laws are still in effect and in 1995 the Atlantic Salmon Federation recognized the Restigouche River as one of the best managed rivers in all of Quebec.