Chief Charles Labrador and William

April 17, 1998 Halifax Herald

Chief Charles Labrador: well-respected Elder

Charles Labrador, nicknamed "Bob" by his sister Marion, was born July 11, 1932 to the late Beatrice (Jeremy) and the late Louis Labrador. At the time of his birth, the family lived a few miles up the LaHave River from Bridgewater.

In 1933, Louis passed away. A year or so after his untimely death, Beatrice moved the family to Wildcat Reserve. At Wildcat, Charlie come under the strong influence of his Grandfather Chief Joseph Jeremy. Jeremy taught him how to hunt and fish and the traditional ways of the Mi'kmaq. During these years, he formed a lifelong friendship with Frank Jeremy, who is now a Band Councillor with the Acadia Band.

Charlie's early life experiences were typical of the experiences suffered by the era's Mi'kmaq. The family was poverty-stricken; wild meat and fish were a large part of their diet; and discrimination was a cross to bear. However, besides the pain, Charlie remembers and cherishes a lot of fond memories of camping, fishing, hunting, and so on with his grandfather and friends.

Molega Mines, a few miles walk through the woods from Wildcat, is where Charlie attended school. This changed in 1947 when his mother moved the family to Millipisitale to accept employment as a cook by the Queens Mines Co. Beatrice remained with the mining company until it closed in 1951. During these years, Charlie attended a company school, completing grade 9. From there he went on to the “University of Life.” He now has an education which, in many ways, can hold its own with one acquired from a University.

After leaving school, Charlie took up wood harvesting as a vocation. A few years later, on December 15, 1956, he married Jaunita Croft. The marriage was blessed with three children. Today, three cherished grandchildren often keep them company.

Charlie moved back to Wildcat in 1969 and, by Band custom, became chief of the Acadia Band of Indians. How the Department of Indian Affairs unilaterally formed the Acadia Band without the consent of the people, combining the Wildcat and Yarmouth Bands, is a tale too long to relate here. Suffice it to say that the forced marriage is still a hot bone of contention among many band members.

It was in the early 1970s that I, as the Department's District Construction Clerk, first became acquainted with Charlie. By 1973, with a new designation, Local Government Advisor, I began to work full-time with several Band Councils, including Acadia. This is where I began to fully appreciate Charlie's good nature, generosity and honesty.

I'll never forget my first visit to his home on Wildcat Reserve, which also doubled as a band office. It was the day I became fully aware of the Department's "generosity" towards small bands. The administration budget Indian Affairs allotted to Acadia was so small that you almost needed a magnifying glass to find it; for example, the Chief was permitted to make three phone calls per month to see how things were going on the Yarmouth Reserve. If there were problems at Yarmouth or Wildcat, because of the Band's low budget, Charlie often had to dig into his own very limited resources to help people out. Charlie still has a souvenir from 1969, the "office equipment" Indian Affairs gave him: a stapler.

One of stupider of the stupid things which Indian Affairs pulled in those days was to give the Acadia Band one quarter of a housing subsidy per year. By the time I became Local Government advisor, they had increased it to one-half. Charlie and I had devised a plan to threaten Indian Affairs with building the half, and calling in the press to view and publicize it. This possible scenario quickly encouraged Indian Affairs to give the band a full subsidy.

There were many other such games we had to play with Indian Affairs to get a fair shake for Acadia. After a struggle, we managed to get the band a small office and enough funding to hire a part-time band manager. When Charlie resigned as Chief of the Acadia Band in 1977, the financial affairs of the band were in excellent shape. It should be noted that Charlie is to this day, the Chief of the Wildcat Band; from this position he has never resigned.

Indian reserve lands in Nova Scotia have often been classified by Mi'kmaqs and non-Indians alike as being some of the most worthless in the province - bogs, mountains, clay pits, etc. Here is a short story about Charlie and this assessment.

One early morning in the spring of 1976, I arrived at Charlie's home to find him at the kitchen table, in a pensive mood, having a cup of tea. I asked what was on his mind. His response: "Over the weekend, the wife and I were over to Peggy's Cove to see the place and, ever since, I've been trying to figure out why the government didn't make it into an Indian reserve. It’s a barren, rocky, isolated piece of land that would have made an ideal addition to the barren pieces of our land they so generously returned to us. The only answer I can come up with is that they somehow foresaw the tourist potential and saved it for themselves!"

Today, Charlie is semi-retired. He still spends some time working in the woods, but most of it is spent at less physically trying activities. This includes traveling to various locations to give talks on Mi'kmaq spiritualism and medicine. At home, he amuses himself by trying his hand at building a birch bark canoe and by fashioning other Mi'kmaq crafts. On October 1, 1997, Charlie received the Grand Chief Donald Marshall Memorial Elder Award. Hats off to a valued friend and a true gentleman!

Daniel N. Paul


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