When a group of natives in North America approached the scientific community with claims that were contrary to their professional consensus, researchers were quick to dismiss them. These scholars soon learned, however, that everything they thought they knew about a particular chapter of history was a complete lie.
The First Nation indigenous to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, the Heiltsuk people have laid claim to the remote Triquet Island for nearly 5,000 years. But archaeologists have dismissed their claim of ownership for one glaring reason…
The continental glacier that formed over Canada during the last Ice Age would’ve also covered Triquet Island, making it uninhabitable. But even with the facts stacked against the Heiltsuk, a small group of researchers took it upon themselves to uncover the truth once and for all.
The archaeologists began an extensive excavation of the remote island in the hope of discovering traces of a past civilization. What they found there not only shocked the entire archaeological community, but it also changed history forever.
Beneath several layers of earth, they found remnants of an ancient, wood-burning hearth. But how could this be? According to researchers, it would’ve been impossible for humans to dig their way through the glacial ice to get to the soil below.
As they continued digging, researchers unearthed additional artifacts, including tools and weapons. This discovery stumped the team as the Heiltsuk people traditionally didn’t use tools of this kind.
The Heiltsuk people had derived their food source from fishing and smoking salmon, utilizing small, precise tools to harvest the fish. The tools and weapons found were much larger and likely would’ve been used to hunt large sea mammals, such as seals, sea lions, and walruses.
What’s more, the team also uncovered shards of obsidian, a glass-like rock only found in areas of heavy volcanic activity. This discovery also puzzled the archaeologists, as there were no known volcanoes near that part of British Columbia. So, how did this rock — and these people — get there?
The historians deduced that whoever left these artifacts must have traversed the land bridge that existed between Siberia and Alaska during prehistoric times. Yet researchers still needed cold-hard facts…
Luckily, a closer inspection of the hearth revealed ancient charcoal remains, which the archaeologists quickly brought to the lab for carbon dating. When they received the results, the researchers couldn’t believe their eyes: everything they knew was a lie.
According to the carbon dating report, these bits of charcoal were an astonishing 14,000 years old, making them the oldest carbon remains ever to be discovered in North America.
Even by global standards, this was an extraordinary find. After all, these simple pieces of charcoal were older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and even predated the invention of the wheel! But that’s not the most remarkable fact about this discovery.
The 14,000-year-old discovery placed the earliest Heiltsuk at Triquet Island 2,000 years before the end of the Ice Age. Therefore, the island couldn’t have been covered by the massive continental glacier. And that’s not all.
Since Triquet Island was surrounded on all sides by water, the early Heiltsuk would’ve used boats to traverse the open waters. Boats, however, were not believed to have been invented until centuries later.
This meant that the Heiltsuk settled the area 2,000 years before initially believed. If this was the case, then these early men likely crossed paths with some of history’s most formidable beasts.
As the Heiltsuk people made their way south from the land bridge, they likely had to fend off giant creatures like mastodons, woolly mammoths, and giant sloths. But somehow, these humans survived, and it’s likely for one crucial reason.
Thanks to the Pacific Ocean itself, the sea level at Triquet Island remained constant for over 15,000 years. So as the sea gradually eroded the surrounding islands, the great beasts of the Pacific Northwest were kept at bay, leaving the Heiltsuk to a peaceful, secluded existence.
The most astounding realization that’s come to light is the fact that the Heiltsuk people were able to preserve their history orally for nearly 14,000 years. However, they are still being deprived of their history’s legitimacy.
When the media caught wind of the story, they seemed to focus more on what the discovery meant for the scientific community rather than acknowledge the rich history of the Heiltsuk. To many, the media’s portrayal of the nation was seen as highly disrespectful.
As a result, University of Victoria student Alisha Gauvreau — who was present during the excavation — has dedicated herself to shifting the focus of the dialogue toward the Heiltsuk people.
The Heiltsuk claim to Triquet Island stands as one of the oldest land-ownership claims in the world. Time will tell how this disagreement evolves over time, but it’s actually not the strangest land dispute that Canada has faced. One involved not a tribe going against the government, but a single man.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Machias Seal Island. Sitting between the Gulf of Maine in the U.S. and Canada’s Bay of Fundy, this tiny landmass has been the subject of a big controversy. Both the United States and Canada have claimed it as their own, but a local fisherman named Barna Norton took that debate to a new level when he recently approached the courts with a jaw-dropping claim.
Barna’s connection to Machias Seal Island started in 1940 when he was just 25. Setting sail from his hometown of Jonesport, Maine, he traveled through 20 miles of water to reach the rocky island. This was the start of countless trips from one shore to another, but he never could’ve foreseen how much Machias Seal Island would mean to him.
That summer, Barna invited his dad and a few tourists to join him for some birdwatching and picnicking on Machias Seal Island. Puffins, razorbills, murres, and Arctic terns flock to the small spot to rest and nest, making it a perfect draw for avid birdwatchers.
That summer sailing expedition was the first of many that Barna held. For 60 years, he’d regularly take loads of visitors and locals to tour and picnic on the island and during those numerous voyages, he’d become quite partial to the area.
Barna isn’t the only one interested in Machias Seal Island — both the United States and Canada stake claims to it. Canada even built a lighthouse there to give more credence to its ownership. America’s evidence for ownership, however, dates back to the 1700s. It’s a rare touchy subject between the two allies.
Norton is well-aware of the island’s history. When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, the document granted the U.S. “all islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States” besides the ones that Nova Scotia had already claimed. But it isn’t that simple.
America isn’t the only one with documented proof of ownership. Canada has a land grant from 1621 that says all “islands … within six leagues of any part” of Nova Scotia’s coast. Machias Seal Island falls within that range being just three leagues from the Grand Manan coast. Still, the Canadians weren’t the first to arrive.
Before either Canada or the United States existed, the Passamaquoddy Nation was using the island for themselves. Machias is a Passamaquoddy term that translates to “bad little falls.” It’s a bit ironic that the other claimants ignored this one.
The U.S. and Canada have attempted to work out their island dispute several times, but still haven’t reached a solution. In talks that occurred in 1817, 1832, and 1944, neither country relented. Each is stubbornly resolute in holding its claim.
In the meantime, Canada has built both a lighthouse and a bird sanctuary on Machias Seal Island. Kelly Craft, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, recently tried to finalize this long-standing argument, but still got nowhere.
“We maintain our position that this is sovereign U.S. territory,” Kelly said. But “essentially, nobody in Washington cares.” She “couldn’t get anybody in Washington interested,” no matter how much she advocated for a solution. However, both governments were appalled that yet another — much smaller — party made a claim.
Barna himself said he owned the island, according to Holly Davis. She was the partner of John Norton’s, Barna’s son, and gave birth to Barna’s only grandchild. Though the others have tired of fighting over the island, Holly has tirelessly shared the story behind Barna’s claims.
Barna had a famous ancestor, well known in the area, named Tall Barney. He was known for being “the giant lobsterman” by the other Jonesport residents. There are plenty of legendary tales about this nearly larger-than-life person, but Barna often recounted “one of the most important stories.”
When the government was drafting soldiers for the Civil War, Tall Barney had no interest in participating. “He was a skedaddler,” Holly said. He thought hiding out on the sea was his best way to avoid going to war. Eventually, he landed on Machias Seal Island.
Tall Barney’s Quaker beliefs were partially why he didn’t want to fight. He wasn’t afraid to defend himself though. When Canadians invaded his island sanctuary “he physically threw some of them off the island,” Historical Society president Bill Plaskon said. That incident emboldened him to pull off an unprecedented claim.
Once the island was safe from invaders, Tall Barney made a proclamation: the lobsterman’s first male heir would have land rights to Machias Seal Island. That person happened to be Barna, who was born June 9, 1915. But how would such ownership be legitimate?
Well, when Barna sent a letter to the government about Tall Barney’s story, they informed him that “Machias Seal Island is part of the United States” and told him, “You have every right to ignore any regulations that Canada pretends to set.” Naturally, not everyone was thrilled with the American interpretation.
Barna put this letter in a plastic binder for safekeeping and carried it with him until his death. Even still, Barna’s had several conflicts with the Canadian government about the island. In June 1984, a Canadian helicopter landed there in the middle of one of Barna’s aviary tours.
The two Mounted Police and a Canadian Wildlife Service official who disembarked gave Barna a warning: “They were there to enforce the laws of Canada against any and all visitors, including Americans,” the Associated Press reported. Ironically, they killed two Arctic terns when they flew away.
Canada received some bad press from the helicopter incident but wasn’t dissuaded. After Barna’s death, his son John took over the tours, until his death years later. Then, it became Holly’s responsibility. Unfortunately, she had to stop the tours, but still isn’t giving up on the island.
Barna’s long fight for Machias Seal Island was memorialized on his pink granite gravestone, which reads “BARNA, DEFENDER OF MACHIAS SEAL ISLAND, U.S.A.” Though the island is still contested, Barna and his family’s efforts still helped bring attention to the location.