Wolastoqiyik: People of the Beautiful River

Section One: Project/Lesson Overview

Grade: 12

Subject: Social Studies

Lesson Title: Wolastoqiyik: People of the Beautiful River

Lesson Description: Provide students with an understanding of the culture and lives of Wolastoqiyik. Students will gain an appreciation of First Nations traditional culture and way of life prior to European contact and how it changed post-contact.

Time required: 3 x 60 minutes

Specific Curriculum Outcomes:

  • evaluate patterns for preserving, modifying, and transmitting culture while adapting to environmental or social change 
  • evaluate issues concerning the diversity and sustainability of Earth’s ecosystems 
  • analyse the interactions within and between regions 
  • evaluate how physical and human systems shape the features, uses, and perceptions of place 
  • analyse the causes and consequences of human modification of the environment on systems within the environment
  • gain a greater appreciation and understanding of Wolastoqiyik and their history, culture, and conditions

Section Two: Project/Lesson Implementation

Equipment/Materials Required: Access to Seasons of Change content

Lesson Procedures/Teaching Strategies:

Impart the following using resources indicated:

  1. The Wolastoqiyik are hunter/fisher/gatherer peoples that have survived in this region for centuries. Dr. Susan E. Blair, University of New Brunswick, conducted an analysis of various archaeological excavations and studies of ancient Wolastoqiyik history, and offers a glimpse of the life of our ancestors. 
  2. By examining the artifacts found at numerous areas around what is known today as the lower St. John River system, Blair identified a “record of habitation and domestic activity spanning more than 2000 years.” However, those dates are derived from specific sites used in her research; other sites offer artifacts dating as far back as 8000 years. Some of the artifacts found are arrowheads, flakes (bi-product from making arrowheads and other stone tools), as well as ceramics just to name a few. Radiocarbon dating is used on charcoal from fire pits or hearths found in sedimentary layers that were excavated. Have students examine the image, Wolastoqew Camp, Nerepis, and discuss the date, community structure and the location and natural environment evidenced in the image. 
  3. Another way Wolastoqiyik history survived is through the oral history, storytelling tradition of the culture. Have students read the story, Turtle Goes Hunting, and discuss the traditions and history recounted in the story. 
  4. The way Wolastoqiyik travelled changed based on seasonal climates and resources available. They also maintained communication with other groups of Wolastoqiyik, often setting up base camps and sending out groups to look for food or hunt for those left at the base camp. Wigwams were set up in areas that were close to the resources required. 
  5. When Wolastoqiyik were hunting animals or gathering anything from Mother Earth, they would thank her for giving her life for their survival and offer something back to her such as tobacco. Wolastoqiyik would also only hunt for what they needed. This tradition is still carried on today by many First Nations. In addition, every piece of the animal was used so that nothing was wasted. 
  6. Wolastoqiyik were very resourceful in the development of tools to help with their lifestyle. They made snowshoes and canoes completely out of items found in nature (birchbark, sinew). Wolastoqiyik canoes were considered the best made canoes in this area and differed from others of this region in that it had an extra piece of birch bark at the front of the canoe that made navigating through stronger currents easier. The canoes were also light enough to carry when certain distances needed to be travelled by foot (portage routes). This was the case of what is known as the Wolastoqiyik trails which begin in New Brunswick and ended in Passamaquoddy territory in Maine. This indicates how far Wolastoqiyik were able to travel using Wolastoq (Saint John River) and other water systems. 
  7. Even though great changes occurred from the time of European contact, it was not until the 1800s when reservations were set up by non-Aboriginals did the lifestyle of Wolastoqiyik begin to change dramatically. When reservations were set up Wolastoqiyik were also convinced that churches should be included in these new communities. Church leaders were often in control of a community’s money from land rental to sales of timber, discouraging the traditional movement of the people. 
  8. A further disruption to the traditional community and way of life came when a Residential School, built in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, took Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq children alike away from their parents. Many years after the children had been sent to that school we heard of the abuse that children suffered at the hands of the nuns and priests at that school. 
  9. The families that were left on these new reserves now had to adapt to this new way of life. Always, resourceful families began to make baskets and other items to trade with European settlers. Making baskets was an art for First Nations; they made baskets for farmers as well as fancy baskets for art collectors. 
  10. Ronald Paul talks about the various activities that were done throughout the year from basket making to hunting. Items such as baskets were made and traded or sold to non-Aboriginals for use on farms. Other means Wolastoqiyik used to provide for their families were leading hunting expeditions for non-Aboriginals. Gabe Acquin of Sitansisk (St. Mary’s First Nation) was well known for his hunting expeditions. Have students examine the image of the Caribou Hunt, the image of turnips, bound for market and have them listen to Ronald Paul discuss the changing seasons. 
  11. For many years the Wolastoqiyik found a way to survive in an ever changing environment and their strength is still evident today. This is just a glimpse of the experience of the Wolastoqiyik that is documented. Who knows how much more information is hidden out there?

Based upon the points above, content from the Seasons of Change Learning Object, and their own additional research, have students compose a 500 word essay that addresses the following questions:

How long have Wolastoqiyik inhabited the Wolastoq (Saint John River Systems) and how is this history determined?
- archaeological evidence
- oral history tradition

What was life like for Wolastoqiyik prior to European contact?
- respectful use of resources
- development of specialized tools and means of communication
- extensive use of river system and development of trail system
- specialized activities as seasons changed, ie hunting, location of communities

Name the disruptions to the traditional lifestyle of Wolastoqiyik and explain the results?
- European contact
- Reserve system
- role of the Church in the economy
- Residential Schools

Suggested Assessment Strategies:
Use standard performance-based assessment tools. Recommended criteria:

  • demonstrate and understanding of the patterns for preserving, modifying, and transmitting culture while adapting to environmental or social change 
  • demonstrate and understanding of the issues concerning the diversity and sustainability of Earth’s ecosystems 
  • demonstrate and understanding of the interactions within and between regions 
  • demonstrate and understanding of how physical and human systems shape the features, uses, and perceptions of place 
  • demonstrate and understanding of the causes and consequences of human modification of the environment on systems within the environment

Section Three: Project/Lesson Resources

Supplementary Resources:
Blair, Susan E. The Ancient Wolastoq’kew Landscapes: Settlement and Technology in the Lower Saint John River Valley, Canada.

Johnson, Daniel F. The Tobique Reserve.

Web-Based Resources:

Disclaimer: The recommended web-resources included here have been scrutinized for their grade and age appropriateness; however, contents on links on the Internet change continuously. It is advisable that teachers preview all links before recommending them to students.

Marie Perley, Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation), New Brunswick
c. 2007
New Brunswick, CANADA
© 2007, New Brunswick Museum. All Rights Reserved.

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