GONISH (Ganishe), PETER (Piel, Pier), Micmac captain; fl. 1841–46 in New Brunswick.
The Tabusintac Indian Reserve was created by the New Brunswick government following receipt of a memorial by 14 Indians dated September 1801. Six of those who made their marks were from the Gonish family. The family continued prominent. In 1841 John and Étienne Gonish were elected second or petit chiefs to serve under Noel Briot, grand chief of the Indians of the Miramichi; Peter Gonish was a captain.
Peter Gonish was one of those who met Captain Henry Dunn O’Halloran on his tour of New Brunswick in 1841. That evangelical army captain inspired the “three chiefs mission” which created so much displeasure at the Colonial Office in London in 1842 [see Joseph Malie]. In July 1843 the government of New Brunswick learned that another Micmac was planning to go to Britain. Alarmed, the lieutenant governor’s secretary, Alfred Reade, gave instructions that Indian commissioner Moses Henry Perley* should “strongly urge on him the extreme impropriety” of going, and, if he did go, Reade promised to tell the home government that he had left wife and family destitute behind him. For good measure, Reade quoted to Perley some of the acidulous comments the previous visit had elicited from the colonial secretary.
Gonish nevertheless went to Britain, accompanied by another Micmac, Joseph Dominic. Their object was to seek financial aid to improve and stock their farms. They travelled to New York, took ship to Liverpool, and there, penniless, were forced to pawn their clothes. They then crossed to Dublin and walked through Ireland to visit O’Halloran. He received them well and sent them on to London where they were helped by, among others, the famous American ethnologist and artist George Catlin. He arranged to redeem their clothes. They were then directed to the Aborigines Protection Society where they were recognized by another visitor to London, none other than Reade, the very man who had tried to head them off. Having come so far, the two announced that they wished to go to Paris to be presented to the king of France; they would, they said, claim his assistance and the support of their French fellow Catholics. Reade gave them “present help,” dissuaded them from visiting France, and kept them away from the Colonial Office.
Gonish and Dominic returned to New Brunswick, presumably at some time late in 1844. Gonish was last heard of in 1846 when he applied for relief on behalf of his band. It was a time of extreme suffering due to the failure of the potato crop, but the missionary Michael P. Egan tartly observed that Gonish had no authorization from the other Indians to ask for aid: “His object is self.”
PANB, RG 1, RS345, A2: 118–19; RG 2, RS7, 40, M. H. Perley to W. F. Odell, 2 Oct. 1843; RS8, Indians, 1/4, M. P. Egan to J. B. Toldevray, 2 March 1846. UNBL, MG H54, memorial, 26 Sept. 1801. Aborigines’ Protection Soc., Proc. (London), 1844: 2–3. Source materials relating to N.B. Indian (Hamilton and Spray). Upton, Micmacs and colonists.