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JULIAN, PETER NICHOLAS, Micmac chief, farmer, and lumberman; b. 1854 at Eel Ground, N.B., son of John Nicholas Julian and Mary Angelique Cloud; m. first 1875 Mary Ann Gurnabil (a corruption of Somerville), and they had at least three daughters and a son; m. secondly 1887 Mary Charlotte Ward (d. 15 Jan. 1958); they had no children; d. 25 Feb. 1938 at Eel Ground.

Peter N. Julian’s baptism on 24 Sept. 1854, at the age of four weeks, is found in the records of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church at Nelson (Miramichi), N.B. He was a great-grandson of John Julien*, who had received a commission as chief of the Indians on the Miramichi River for his support of the British during the Indian unrest associated with the American revolution. In the 1780s land was licensed to him and his tribe in the Red Bank area of the Miramichi and at nearby Eel Ground. His tribe consisted of a band at Eel Ground, to which he belonged, and one at Red Bank. After his death the chiefship went to his son Andrew Julian; it then passed to Andrew’s cousin Barnaby Julian of Red Bank.

In 1841, when New Brunswick Indian commissioner Moses Henry Perley* visited the Miramichi, he found that much of the riverfront at Red Bank had been divided into lots and leased or sold by Barnaby Julian. After consulting with the tribe in council, Perley revoked his commission and designated Nicholas Julian of Eel Ground (a brother of Andrew) as chief. This appointment made Nicholas the nominal head of the tribe, but he did not involve himself in the affairs of the Red Bank band, which fell into a state of disorganization.

When Nicholas Julian died in 1868, his son John Nicholas assumed the chiefship and sought a government appointment. However, the transfer of the Indian file to Ottawa at confederation caused a bureaucratic backlog, and it was not until 1871 that he was officially named chief. The delay created an atmosphere of uncertainty in which his tenure was questioned and opposition took root. At his death in 1888 almost every adult male on the Eel Ground Reserve signed a petition to end hereditary chiefship and introduce an elective system. The band subsequently voted Thomas Barnaby* into office, but in 1893 a clamour arose for another election, at which point Peter N. Julian, then in his late thirties, entered tribal politics. Early the following year he wrote to Ottawa, stating that Barnaby’s rivals were resorting to “detestable means” to have him removed. Though he denied any desire to unseat Barnaby, he still let it be known that as “a lineal descendant of the Julian family” he was the “proper person” to be chief. After the Department of Indian Affairs told him an election was necessary, he stood in April 1894 and won. At the time he was a successful farmer and lumberman, and a dutiful Catholic who did not use alcohol or tobacco. As a farmer, he maintained “the best bit of land at Eel Ground,” and when he employed a crew of men to cut and haul railway ties, he treated them fairly. For these reasons and because of his charm and aristocratic bearing, he commanded respect.

Shortly before Julian was elected, Indian Affairs had decided to seek formal surrenders from the Miramichi Indians of lands that had passed out of their possession, largely through illegal leases and sales. The lots would then be patented to their non-Indian occupants. Most were in the Red Bank area, and when the Indians there learned of the plan, they found it unacceptable. At the same time Julian notified the department that, since he had an interest in the lands, no sales were to be made without his consent. District Indian superintendent William Doherty Carter cautioned the department against Julian’s claim: the Indians at Red Bank had played no part in his election and resented his interference. Nonetheless, in November 1894, as the only officially recognized chief on the Miramichi, Julian was invited to Ottawa to discuss the surrenders, and he seemed willing to cooperate. He gave assurances that his band had no interest in the lands occupied by the Red Bank Indians. It did, however, claim the Big Hole and Indian Point tracts and land west of Red Bank along the Little Southwest Miramichi, where most of the lots to be surrendered were located.

Although it was common knowledge that these areas belonged to Red Bank, Carter was instructed to convene a meeting of both bands and attempt to get the documents of surrender signed. At this gathering and at others that followed, few Red Bank residents could be induced to sign, so Julian’s band provided most of the signatures, and by early 1896 the department had forced through the surrenders. The chief’s real goal was to have the huge unsurrendered portion of the Big Hole tract taken from Red Bank and given to Eel Ground. By laying claim to the lands from which surrenders were being sought, and then facilitating those surrenders, he placed himself in a strong bargaining position. There was no denying that Eel Ground was poor in land relative to the smaller band at Red Bank. Although the Indians there baulked initially, under intense pressure they agreed in 1896 to transfer half of Big Hole to Eel Ground. This assignment ended the land struggle, but the government’s high-handedness left the Red Bank band resentful, and the self-serving role Julian had played, with his band’s connivance, soured relations between the communities. In 1896 Indian Affairs recognized the Red Bank Indians as a distinct band and John P. Tenass* became its chief.

Julian retained the Eel Ground chiefship until 1903. He did not re-offer that year but held the position again in 1906–9. In conducting band affairs, he was as shrewd as he had been in dealing with Ottawa. He knew how to compromise, make pacts with his enemies, and settle scores. A law-and-order chief whose priorities included policing and operating a lock-up, he did not shrink from using force against wrongdoers. He took so much interest in the federal day school on the reserve that he was accused of being meddlesome. His concern was viewed more favourably in 1902 when he fitted up a room in his home for use as a classroom after the school had been destroyed by a runaway brush fire.

Julian’s enemies questioned his every action, but his intelligence, energy, and dedication to his community could not be denied. Later in life, he became a respected elder who, the North Shore Leader (Newcastle) noted at his death, was “held in high esteem on the reserve for his many fine characteristics.”


W. D. Hamilton

North Shore Leader (Newcastle, N.B.), 4 March 1938. W. D. Hamilton, Dictionary of Miramichi biography (Saint John, 1997); The federal Indian day schools of the Maritimes (Fredericton, N.B., 1986); The Julian tribe (Fredericton, 1984).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. D. Hamilton, “JULIAN, PETER NICHOLAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 16, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/julian_peter_nicholas_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/julian_peter_nicholas_16E.html
Author of Article: W. D. Hamilton
Title of Article: JULIAN, PETER NICHOLAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2013
Year of revision: 2013
Access Date: September 16, 2014