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Mi’kmaq People: History and Evolution Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 11th, 2020


Many researchers have conducted studies about Mi’kmaq people in Cape Breton (Nova Scotia). Mi’kmaq people were the first to inhabit some parts of England, Canada and Peninsula. As a result, the inhabited region was known as Mi’kma’kik. Mi’kma’kik has a population of approximately sixty thousand people. Majority of the people speak a language known as Mi’kmaq.

Initially, the language was written in hieroglyphic writing but currently it is written using the Latin alphabet. Researchers have not researched in details about the way of life of Mi’kmaq people. This paper examines the history of Mi’kmaq people and the evolution of their political, social and cultural life.

The history

Mi’kma’kik had seven districts each with a chief as the head and a council (Magocsi 304). The members of the council were village and community elders. The districts include Kespukwitk, Sikepnékatik, Eskíkewaq, Unamákik, Piktuk aqq Epekwitk, Sikniktewaq, and Kespékewaq. Apart from the district council, there was a grand council, which consisted of captain, elders, women council and the grand chief.

The purpose of the ground council was to assess the needs of the Mi’kmaq people and come up with possible solutions. At around 1610, the ruling grand chief by the name Membertou, converted to catholic and formed an alliance with the French (Poole and Abdullah 71). The grand chief gave Mi’kmaq people freedom to choose between traditions and catholism.

During the King Philips War, Mi’kmaq people formed another alliance with the following nations, Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet (Dunlop and Dale 43). In approximately seventy five years, there were several wars where the Mi’kmaq people fought with the British so that they could not take their land. Some of the wars included French and Indian as well as Father Rale and Father Le Loutre (Wicken 29).

Although France lost their political control in 1710, Mi’kmaq people did not allow the British to take their land and they used military force against them. However, in 1758, the resistance of the military decreased after the French was defeated in the Siege of Louisbourg, which happened in Cape Breton.

During the period of war, Mi’kmaq people signed a number of treaties with the British. Of importance was the peace treaty in 1752 because it marked the end of war in Mi’kma’kik (Agyeman 76). In 1760, another treaty was signed and the Mi’kmaq people were to be under the rule of the British.

Although the aim of the Mi’kmaq leaders was to maintain a mutual relationship with the British, the British controlled them by dictating their settlement in the limited land. As people from Britain migrated into Mi’kma’kik, they created pressure on economic, social and cultural way of life of the Mi’kmaq people. Although the treaties had lots meaning, they were incorporated into the constitution of Canada in 1982.

As a result, Mi’kmaq people celebrate treaty day every year on the first day of October. According to Gough, the government of Canada and that of Nova Scotia signed a historic treaty with the Mi’kmaq people in 2010 (430). The purpose of the treaty was that, the two governments should always consult before engaging in activities that affect the Mi’kmaq people.

The political life

The principle of democracy influenced the political life of the Mi’kmaq people (Gough 213). The people selected all their leaders and there was no inheritance of any political position. Therefore, before a person could be selected as a political leader, he had to have qualities that people liked. For example, wisdom, faithfulness, open-minded and knowledgeable.

Besides, Poliandri stated that, a potential leader should not have committed any crime (24). Once a person was elected into leadership position, he could serve for as long as he wished provided he was humble and treated other people with dignity.

According to the government of Mi’kmaq people, the nation had seven districts with many villages. A village had approximately three hundred people. Each village had a village elder whose function was to listen to the grievances of the people and act accordingly. The district government was made up of the chief and the council.

A grand chief coordinated the functions of the different districts. Fink stated that after the signing of the treaty, each district became independent and there was no need of a grand chief (230). After the twenty first century, the political life of the Mi’kmaq people changed. They have provinces and they live in small areas, which are under the control of the Indian act as well as the federal law (Magocsi 650).

Thus, they resemble other communities in Canada. In the area of Nova Scotica, Mi’kmaq has thirteen divisions called bands. The leaders of the bands are chiefs and councils who are elected by the people. The bands are found in specific areas of the Mi’kmaq called Indian Reserves (Poole and Abdullah 39).

The Social Life

Mi’kmaq people used to move from one place to another depending on the weather. During the hot seasons, they moved to the coastal region while during the cold seasons they migrated to the inland parts of Mi’kma’kik (Dunlop and Dale 98). They did not have a good means of transport and as a result, they could walk for more than two years before they find a place to settle.

They travelled during the day because of the presence of the light. Mi’kmaq people used to build temporary houses when they get tired after walking for a long period. All the members of the community participated in the building activities by either collecting the necessary materials or constructing the houses.

After sometimes, the Mi’kmaq people learned the skills of making canoes and they used them for transport (Wicken 43). Only the skilled people could make the canoes using branches of trees like the birch, which were found, at the costal shore. The Mi’kmaq people trusted them and they could not entrust their work to any other people without the necessary skills lest the canoes sink.

Mi’kmaq people lived in a community where every person had equal access to the available resources. They used to work together and share all the wealth that they accumulated. For example, Agyeman stated that, they could hunt and gather food together, make clothes and look for medicinal plants (29). Respect and gratitude was the principle of their social interaction.

The young respected the old and vice versa. Additionally, they could hold ceremonies and thank their creators for providing them with food. The Mi’kmaq people passed knowledge and skills from one person to another because they did not have formal schools.

They could teach others how to hunt, construct houses and make canoes (Gough 329). Moral teaching was through oral stories. Additionally, they learned how to make clothes from the skins of animals. The bones and the shells were used to decorate the clothes. Mi’kmaq people were creative and they dyed the clothes in plants as well as animal dyes.

The Cultural Life

Traditional ceremonies were imperative to the Mi’kmaq people. Some of the ceremonies that they had were marriage, burial, hunting and war (Poliandri 293). During the ceremonies, they consumed traditional foods and danced in a cultural manner. Besides, the elders entertained the community with stories about their origin and the way of life of the ancestors.

The Mi’kmaq people organized competitive events like canoes racing and dancing. Mi’kmaq people believed that the evil spirit created a desire of killing in them and as a result, they could fight with each other (Fink 302). This made the gods angry and they sent heavy rain, which destroyed them. In order to make the gods happy, Mi’kmaq people offered sacrifices.

At night, the Mi’kmaq people could sit around the fire and tell stories. The aim of the stories was to help people learn the moral values and social relationships. Magocsi stated that Mi’kmaq people had herbal medicines that they used to cure different kinds of diseases (807). Although the medicines were easily available, only the wise people could heal others. The herbal medicines were in different formulations like the powder and liquid.

Some medicines were used to prevent diseases while others were poisonous. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the wise men to look for the medicines because they were the only ones with the skills of differentiating the poisonous plants from the medicines. Some of the medicinal plants included alder, cherry and spruce (Poole and Abdullah 123 ). They were used to treat rheumatism, flu, cold and stomachache.

Mi’kmaq people believed that a spirit by the name Kji-Nskam was the creator of life (Dunlop and Dale 112). They believed that every person had a spirit and as a result, they respected each other. They worshiped and danced together to make the spirit happy. There were specific people in the community who could communicate with Kji-Nksam.

They had powers to predict unforeseen events. Therefore, they could tell people to offer sacrifices in advance so that the spirit does not become angry and make the land dry. The French men used to see Mi’kmaq as people with no religion. At around, 1600 the French formed an alliance with the Mi’kmaq people and persuaded them to adopt their religion (Wicken 205).

Many people were converted to christianity through baptism and they adopted Saint Anne as their patron. Although most of them were Christians, they still used to gather under trees or near mountains and performed their traditional rituals. Mi’kmaq people also used to meet in chapels once in a year to honor saint Anne who they believed was their grandmother.

During the meeting, people could confess their sins; those with grudges could forgive others and some people used to communicate with the diseased. The main objective of the meeting was to enhance the relationships of the people and the community bondage.

The Political, Social and Cultural Life of the Mi’kmaq People from the Twentieth Century to present

The beginning of the twentieth century marked a change in the style of living of the Mi’kmaq people because they faced many challenges. The land became overcrowded and people could no longer move freely as nomads (Agyeman 123). Different groups of people started settling in the land of the Mi’kmaq people and engaging in activities like farming, hunting and trading.

At around 1920, the government gave out a vast piece of land to a private company known as Anglo-Newfoundland. The company erected a milling factory on that land and it received its supply from the local forest. As a result, the climate of the Mi’kma’kik started changing and the animals that lived in the forest were destroyed.

In 1950, the culture and the economy of the Mi’kmaq people was under attack (Gough 45). Although the Mi’kmaq people were traditionalists, they could go to the Catholic Church occasionally to reconcile with their God. Additionally they had a good interpersonal relationship with the catholic priests. However, a priest who served at saint Alban stated forcing the Mi’kmaq people to abandon their traditions.

This created resentment in Mi’kmaq people. Currently, Mi’kmaq people have a negative attitude towards the catholic priests and the religion. According to Poliandri, a fall in the price of far had a destructive impact on Mi’kmaq people (344). Although some of them found employment in the milling industries, their economic status was still poor. As the world war two began, the life of some of the Mi’kmaq people improved.

This is because some were taken to work oversees while others found employment in the pulp industry. Currently, the hierarchy of leadership of the Mi’kmaq people is a reflection of the influence of the colonialists. At the top of the ladder is the government of the province or Canada, followed by the chiefs and the councils of the community and lastly are the community members (Fink 402).

Many Mi’kmaq people do not live in the reserves. They share their province with people from other culture like the aboriginal. Majority of the Mi’kmaq people go to schools and they manage to move from high schools to the universities and graduate (Magocsi 900). Some of them become doctors, teachers or even lawyers and extend their services to the community members.

Most of them move to other nations in search of a well paying job. The traditional knowledge and skills that the Mi’kmaq people had acquired are no longer imperative because it cannot help a person to get a good job. Thus, the community members try to stress on the importance of formal education and encourage each other to go to schools.

Mi’kmaq people do not depend on nature to provide food as well as shelter for them. Instead, Mi’kmaq people participate in activities that will help them get money to procure food. Despite the fact that some Mi’kmaq people still hunt and gather food, they do not depend on it for their survival (Poole and Abdullah 27).

People with low income can join organizations that assist them meet their financial needs. They include social welfare programs, insurance companies as well as family benefits groups. These organizations are important because Mi’kma’kik is a small nation with scarce resources and many people do not have a well paying job while others are jobless.

Dunlop and Dale stated that Mi’kmaq people no longer live in the temporary shelters but in modern houses that are permanent (205). People listen to modern music and they wear refined clothes. Regardless of the aforementioned changes, the Mi’kmaq people still hold their cultures and traditions. For instance, some people still consume traditional foods, listen to cultural songs, and take herbal medicines.

On the other hand, the language of the Mi’kmaq people is perishing. Approximately twenty percent of the people can speak the language fluently. Many people speak in English and they do not know their mother tongue. Mi’kmaq people still compete with each other the way they used to do in the ancient times. They compete in sports like hockey and traditional games (Wicken 300).

They also organize for ceremonies like funeral and marriage. Besides, they celebrate holidays like St Anne’s days on the twenty fifth day of July and treaty day on the first day of October. In some parts of Mi’kma’kik especially the reserves, people share land and the limited resources. In majority of the places, people do not share land and each person has his own property (Agyeman 50 ).

The government also owns land and the Mi’kmaq people or the various organizations rent them. The land is mostly used for tree farming. As a result, Mi’kermaq people who reside on the reserves have limited access to the available natural resources.


In conclusion, Mi’kma’kik has evolved from traditional nation to a modern province. The evolution entails their political, social and cultural life. Politically, they have moved from the district governments and grand chiefs to provincial government. Socially, they do not depend on the environment for survival but they work to earn money and get food.

Besides, they live on modern houses; attend formal schools and work to get money. Culturally, they have not completely abandoned their traditional practices, but they have aped some from other nations. For instance, they still hold dancing competitions.

Works cited

Agyeman, Julian. Speaking for Ourselves: Environmental Justice in Canada. New York: UBC Press, 2009. Print.

Dunlop, Dale, and Dale Dunlop Alison Scott. Exploring Nova Scotia: A Guide to Unique Adventures and Activities. London: Formac Publishing Company, 2003. Print.

Fink, Leon. Workers Across the Americas:The Transnational Turn in Labor History: The Transnational Turn in Labor History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Gough, Barry M. Historical Dictionary of Canada. Canada: Scarecrow Press, 2011. Print.

Magocsi, Paul Robert. Encyclopedia of Canadas Peoples. Australia: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Print.

Poliandri, Simone. First Nations, Identity, and Reserve Life: The Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. New York: Springer, 2011. Print.

Poole, Stephen, and Colleen Abdullah. Nova Scotia. London: Formac Publishing Company, 2004. Print.

Wicken, William Craig. Míkmaq Treaties on Trial: History, Land, and Donald Marshall Junior. Australia: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Print.

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