BERNARD, PHILIP, chief of a group of Micmacs at St Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia; fl. 1786.
After the founding of Halifax in 1749 and the take-over of all of present-day Nova Scotia by the British in 1758, the Micmacs felt increasing pressure on their land holdings from settlers. As early as 1754 the Indians had requested that some land be set aside for their own exclusive use. In 1762 Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher issued a proclamation forbidding settlers to trespass on certain lands claimed by the Indians along the Nova Scotia coast from the Musquodoboit River to Canso and northwest to the Baie des Chaleurs. The influx of loyalist settlers following the American revolution intensified competition for land, while at the same time the wild game required by the Micmacs to support their traditional way of life diminished. The Indians consequently suffered and became increasingly dependent upon the British. The Nova Scotia government had already made some attempt to induce the Indians to settle in one place and live by agriculture, and it now intensified its efforts. In 1783 a policy was begun of issuing licences or tickets of occupation to groups of Indians for land on which they agreed to settle. Between September and December 1783 nine such licences were issued. During 1784 several more were granted in response to petitions from the Indians, who undoubtedly were increasingly alarmed at the amount of land claimed by settlers.
These licences merely granted the Indians permission to use the land. In 1786 the government made its first recorded grant of land title to Micmacs. The group living at St Margaret’s Bay, led by Philip Bernard, were told that pending completion of a formal grant they could occupy a 500-acre tract on the bay. Before the grant could be accomplished, however, the land was found to be the property of Brook Watson*, who sold it and dispossessed the Indians. Chief Bernard, along with Solomon and Tawmaugh, two men of the group, then memorialized the government on 1 Feb. 1786, requesting a 500-acre grant at the head of the bay. In response, Governor John Parr commissioned a survey of the tract so that the Indians could be given title. This survey was reported accomplished on 3 March 1786.
Following the grant of land to the three petitioners, outright grants were also made to other Micmac groups around the colony. Some horticulture was undertaken by the Indians, but on the whole no great strides toward sedentary life were made as a result of the policy. The significance of the grant to Bernard was that the principle of giving Indians legal title to land was established, and the practice culminated in the creation of a reserve system in 1820. After 1786 there is no further mention of Philip Bernard in written records.
PANS, RG 1, 165, pp.224–25; 430, nos.23 1/2, 26 1/2 27 1/2, 28. N.S. Archives, I, 215. E. A. Hutton, “The Micmac Indians of Nova Scotia to 1834” (unpublished ma thesis, Dalhousie University, Halifax, 1961).