CAPE BRETON INDIANS – MICMAC/MI’KMAQ

History of the Micmac

 

Danny Boy Stephens is a Mi’kmaq native and former sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps from Cape Breton

(Since it came to be well known in recent years just how progressive our Indian Tribes were in both North and South America and the prominent civilization they enjoyed prior to the white man “discovering” them, I have been ashamed of our religious leaders and teachers for not better explaining to the us the role the native Indians had on our culture and how advanced they were in so many ways. In numerous cases, if not for them the Europeans would not have been able to endure the harsh climate and explore and survive the way they did. Suggest you read: “1491 new revelations of the Americas before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann. – CAPER)

The Mi’kmaw territory was divided into seven traditional “districts”. Each district had its own independent government and boundaries. The independent governments had a district chief and a council. The council members were band chiefs, elders, and other worthy community leaders. The district council was charged with performing all the duties of any independent and free government by enacting laws, justice, apportioning fishing and hunting grounds, making war, suing for peace, etc.

The Seven Mi’kmaq Districts are Kespukwitk, Sikepnékatik, Eskíkewaq, Unamákik, Piktuk aqq Epekwitk, Sikniktewaq, and Kespékewaq.

Micmac Family with Toboggon and Snow Shoes

In addition to the district councils, there was also a Grand Council or Santé Mawiómi. The Grand Council was composed of “Keptinaq”, or captains in English, who were the district chiefs. There were also Elders, the Putús (Wampum belt readers and historians, who also dealt with the treaties with the non-natives and other Native tribes), the women council, and the Grand Chief. The Grand Chief was a title given to one of the district chiefs, which was usually from the Mi’kmaq district of Unamáki or Cape Breton Island. This title was hereditary and usually went to the Grand Chief’s eldest son. The Grand Council met on a little island on the Bras d’Or lake in Cape Breton called “Mniku”, on a reserve today call Chapel Island or Potlotek. To this day, the Grand Council still meets at the Mniku to discuss current issues within the Mi’kmaq Nation.

The Mi’kmaq were members of the Wapnáki (Wabanaki Confederacy), an alliance with four other Algonquian-language nations: the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet. The allied tribes ranged from present-day New England in the United States to the Maritime Provinces of Canada. At the time of contact with the French (late 16th century), they were expanding from their maritime base westward along the Gaspé Peninsula /St. Lawrence River at the expense of Iroquoian Mohawk tribes, hence the Míkmaq name for this peninsula, Kespek (“last-acquired”). On 24 June 1610, Grand Chief Membertou converted to Catholicism and was baptised. He concluded an alliance with the French Jesuits which affirmed the right of Mi’kmaq to choose Catholicism, Mi’kmaw tradition, or both.

Micmac Warrior – Hunter

The Mi’kmaq, as allies with the French, were amenable to limited French settlement in their midst. After France lost political control of Acadia in 1710, the Mí’kmaq engaged in intermittent warfare with the British. For example, along with Acadians, the Mi’kmaq used military force to resist the founding of British (protestant) settlements in Dartmouth and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. During the French and Indian War, the Mi’kmaq assisted the Acadians in resisting the British during the Expulsion of the Acadians. The military resistance ended with the French defeat at the Siege of Louisbourg (1758) in Cape Breton. After the war, the Mi’kmaq soon found themselves overwhelmed by the British, who seized much of their land without payment.

Between 1725 and 1779, the Mí’kmaq signed a series of peace and friendship treaties with Great Britain, but none of these were land cession treaties. The nation historically consisted of seven districts, which was later expanded to eight with the ceremonial addition of Great Britain at the time of the 1749 treaty.

Later the Mí’kmaq also settled Newfoundland as the unrelated Beothuk tribe became extinct. Mí’kmaq delegates concluded the first international treaty, the Treaty of Watertown, with the United States soon after it gained its independence, in July 1776. These delegates did not officially represent the Mi’kmaq government, although many individual Mi’kmaq did privately join the Continental army as a result.

Typical Micmac Settlement – Fishing Camp

On August 31, 2010, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia signed an historic agreement with the Mi’kmaq Nation, etablishing a process whereby they must consult with the Mi’kmaq Grand Council before engaging in any activities or projects that affect the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia — which covers most, if not all, actions these governments might take within that jurisdiction. This is the first such collaborative agreement in Canadian history including all the First Nations within an entire province.

Míkmaq First Nation subdivisions

Míkmaw names in the table are spelled according to several orthographies. The Míkmaw orthographies in use are Míkmaw pictographs, the orthography of Silas Tertius Rand, the Pacifique orthography, and the most recent Smith-Francis orthography, which has been adopted throughout Nova Scotia and in most Míkmaw communities.

Community   Province/State   Town/Reserve   Est. Pop.   Míkmaq name  
         
         
         
         
         
         
         
Chapel Island First Nation  Nova Scotia Chapel Island 576 Potlotek
         
         
         
Eskasoni First Nation  Nova Scotia Eskasoni 3,800+ Wékistoqnik
         
         
         
         
         
         
         
Membertou First Nation  Nova Scotia Sydney 1,051 Maupeltuk
         
         
         
         
         
         
         
Wagmatcook First Nation  Nova Scotia Wagmatcook 623 Waqmitkuk
Waycobah First Nation  Nova Scotia Whycocomagh 900 Wékoqmáq

 

Micmac Birchbark Moose Caller

 

Demographics

Year Population Verification
1500      4,500 Estimation
1600      3,000 Estimation
1700      2,000 Estimation
1750      3,000 Estimation
1800      3,100 Estimation
1900      4,000 Census
1940      5,000 Census
1960      6,000 Census
1972      10,000 Census
1998    15,000 SIL
2006    20,000 Census

The pre-contact population is estimated at 50,000-100,000. In 1616, Father Biard believed the Míkmaq population to be in excess of 3,000, but he remarked that, because of European diseases, there had been large population losses during the 16th century. Smallpox, wars and alcoholism led to a further decline of the native population, which was probably at its lowest in the middle of the 17th century. Then the numbers grew slightly again, before becoming apparently stable during the 19th century. During the 20th century, the population was on the rise again. The average growth from 1965 to 1970 was about 2.5%.

 

Celebrations

In the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, October is celebrated as Míkmaq History Month and the entire Nation celebrates Treaty Day annually on October 1. This was first signified in the year, 1752, with the Peace and Friendship Treaty (also called the Treaty of 1752) signed by Chief Cope of Shubenacadie, representing all of the Míkmaq people, and the king’s representative. It was stated that if the natives would be given gifts annually,”as long as they continued in Peace.”

 

Folklore

In Mi’kmaq mythology, evil and wickedness among men causes them to kill each other. This causes great sorrow to the creator-sun-god, who weeps tears that become rains sufficient to trigger a deluge. The people attempt to survive by traveling in bark canoes, but only a single old man and woman survive to populate the earth.

Notable Míkmaq

 

*(I got to know Everett Sanipass very well when he attended the World Junior Selection Camp at Belleville, On. I picked him up at Pearson Airport and drove him to the Camp where I was Camp Director for the CAHA. He was a pure Indian and a big strapping guy with a very good attitude. CAPER)

 

Pre-contact culture

Housing

Micmac Wigwam

Mi’kmaq people lived in structures called wigwams. Saplings, which were usually spruce, were cut down and bent over a circle drawn on the ground. These saplings were lashed together at the top, and then covered with birch bark. The Mi’kmaq had two different sizes of wigwams. The smaller size could hold 10-15 people and the larger size 15-20 people. Wigwams could be either conical or domed in shape.

Micmac Sea Going Canoe

Food and hunting

The Mi’kmaq were semi-nomadic. During the summer they spent most of their time on the shores harvesting seafood; during the winter they would move inland to the woods to hunt. The most important animal hunted by the Mi’kmaq was the moose which provided food, clothing, cordage, and other things. Other animals hunted/trapped included deer, caribou, bear, rabbit, beaver, and others. The weapon used most for hunting was the bow and arrow. The Mi’kmaq made their bows from maple.

Damien Benoit Making Snoeshoes

Hunting a moose

The moose was the most important animal to the Mi’kmaq. It was their second main source of meat, clothing and cordage, which were all crucial commodities. The Mi’kmaq usually hunted moose in groups of 3-5 men. Before the moose hunt, the Mi’kmaq would starve their dogs for 2 days to make them fierce in helping to finish off the moose. To kill the moose, they would injure it first, by using a bow and arrow or other weapons, and after it was down, they would move in on it and finish it off with spears and their dogs. The guts would then be fed to the dogs. During this whole process, the men would try to direct the moose in the direction of the camp, so that the women would not have to go as far to drag the moose back. A boy became a man in the eyes of the community after he had killed his first moose. It was only then that he had earned the right to marry.

Micmac Shallop copied from French, Portuguese and Basque Fishermen enabled the Micmac to sail to/from Newfoundland and along the Coast to Maine and maybe further

Other

One spiritual capital of the Míkmaq nation is Mniku, the gathering place of the Míkmaq Grand Council or Santé Mawiómi, Chapel Island in the Bras d’Or Lakes of Cape Breton Island. The island is also the site of the St. Anne Mission, an important pilgrimage site for the Míkmaq. The island has been declared a historic site. 

{Originally Indian Village – later known as Petite Bras d”Or and Alder Point}

(Indian Village was another area of Cape Breton Island where the Mi’kmaw ‘Micmac’ predominated and lived along the shores and may have very well been in contact with the very first European fishermen and explorers who ventured into these waters. This will be a feature in a future article that is planned about the area many of whose off spring still live there and some occupying land that once belonged to their Micmac ancestors such as the Lejeune/Young, LeRoi/Roy/King, Jesso/Jessome, Boucher/Bouche, Benoit/Benwa, Perrault/Pearo/Pero, Marche/Marsh and many others. – CAPER

Micmac Family Portrait

(It is interesting to note that Native Indians in both South and North America considered their European ‘discoverers’ to be inferior in stature to them. They found the European White Man to be underweight, bearded, unwashed, and weak and poorly built compared to the large framed, bronzed, healthy, well muscled Native Indians - an interesting assessment. – CAPER)

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent posting–fascinating history and good images of a people traveling far from Cape Breton. Thank you so much.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Eric Simm on December 20, 2010 at 15:14

    Very interesting and informative
    Just to imagine that this rich Mi’kmaq hertiage flowed through the people of Little Bras d’or and surrounding areas.
    I find it very interesting to watch the early famlies of French Villade arrive in the mid 1700′s and flourish.
    Hope to see more.

    Reply

  3. Here is a site i am working on

    Reply

  4. Posted by leonard on February 26, 2011 at 04:04

    one of the best site’s ive seen ib such a great amount of time .
    iam actualy related to the mikmaq and naskspi-montagnais of newfoundland from about 1784-1888 . (king michael agathe(b about 1803?-naskapi-montagnais-mikmaq)..?who married in (jacques webb-camus-roi-lejeuve in 1760-88 .
    i would like to read more about this site later down the road ….
    KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK DOC…!!

    Reply

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