Tappan Adney's Maliseet Studies: More Than Canoes

Presented at the 34th Algonquian Conference, Language and Linguistics
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
October 24-27, 2002
Page Two

Advocate for the Indians of the St. John River

Despite continuing pressure from the Mariners' Museum (who were supporting him financially) to finish his monograph on the canoes, in the late 1940s Adney became increasingly concerned with the fate of his Indian friends who were in trouble with the local government over issues of trespass, education, and many more fundamental problems. As a result he spent more and more time researching ancient treaties to prove that the Maliseets had never relinquished their status as a separate nation. He was in close contact with the local Indians on the Woodstock and Tobique Reserves, and established the "St. John River Indian Tribe - Wulastooks," created a letterhead, and conducted extensive legal correspondence in cooperation with Chief William Saulis.

He wrote to Mrs. Lillian Maxwell on September 24, 1948: "I have reconstituted the Indians of the St. John by their tribal name as in official documents, including treaties of the English period prior to Confederation...[discusses treaties and the royal proclamation of 1763]...This Indian land title will have to be liquidated and treaty rights settled before there can be any final settlement of the Indian problem in the Maritimes and with view to such settlement and surrender of title (with compensation) I have had the old tribe reconstituted so they cannot say, 'That old tribe of British times does not exist any longer.' The Indians can say, 'Yes, it does.'"Note 17. Thus, Tappan Adney was way out in front in trying to rectify the injustices suffered by his local Indian friends.

Chief William Saulis wrote to Adney from the Tobique Reserve on December 20, 1948 [edited]:

...I am writing you, as the Acting Secretary of the tribe, and not just a Chief of the Band, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate all your work and efforts to help the Indian of this tribe, and all you have done already, will safeguard the Indians in the future. You and I are both getting old, but, the very least, will stamp this foundation work into the hearts of every young Indian, that has right way of thinking, for their future, your Sacrifice and not much of mine, will be remembered by young and old Indians, when we have passed away...Mr. Adney, I don't know where I would have got, or how far would I have gone without your guiding hand, and I only hope that you will be able to carry on for years to come... Note 18.

Tappan Adney never did finish his manuscript describing the canoe model collection. At his death in October, 1950 his papers were gathered up and distributed by his son to various institutions and libraries, such as the Peabody Essex Museum, the Mariners' Museum, the University of New Brunswick, Dartmouth College, and the Carleton County Historical Society. He had already donated a number of artifacts to the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, and his papers concerning the Sharp Family reside there. We are very fortunate that a number of circumstances combined to effect the eventual publication of The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, which became the bible of those interested in building birchbark canoes in the manner of the Indians of 150 years ago. Two recent financial grants to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, are enabling the restoration of many of the 120 model canoes there, and the conservation and cataloging of his papers.

Tappan Adney is known as the man who saved the knowledge of the birchbark canoe from oblivion. But there was more to his life's work than canoes.

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