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The Mi’kmaq people are indigenous to the northeastern part of New England. They occupy the Atlantic province and precisely the Gaspe Peninsula of the great Québec.
The great nation of Canada has an estimated population of about forty thousand people; eleven thousand of them belong to the Mi’kmaq community. This community has a long history that dates many years back. The territory of this community was believed to have been separated into seven distinct districts; each of them having completely independent governance and boundaries. The administrations of these districts were made up of numerous chiefs who had a council of elders as subordinates.
This council of elders comprised of the respectable people in the society, band chiefs and other proclaimed elders (Poliandri, 354). It was the sole duty of the council of elders together with the chiefs to carry out all the administrative functions and maintain law and order in the community. They exercised justice and prepared their warriors in the event that there was war. The seven districts were:
- Piktuk aqq Epekwitk
Aside from the council of elders, the community also had a grand council (also called the Sante Mawiomi) which comprised of captains (also called Keptinaq). The captains were given the title of district chiefs. In addition to the district chiefs, the hierarchy of leaders also included the Putus, grand chief and women council.
The grand chief was a very important member on the Mi’kmaq community and he was appointed from one of the existing district chiefs (Zimmerman, 241). The sitting chief had to be a representative of the Unamaki district or Cape Breton Island in order to qualify as a grand chief. It is important to note that the title of the grand chief was hereditary according to the laws of the land and was always handed over to the eldest son of the sitting grand chief in the event that he passed away.
The council of elders that was charged with the responsibility of restoring order to the community held their meetings in Cape Breton at a small island named Mniku. This was a reserve that has today seized to be called Mniku and has shifted its name to Chapel Island. Others have also called this island Potlotek. It is amazing to note that the council of elders still meets at the same point to this day (Choyce and Rita, 120).
It is believed that the human habitation of the Gaspe Peninsula dates back to over 10,000 years ago. This was the period that marked a series of technological development, radical climate change and the immigration of new inhabitants. None of the mentioned events had as much effect as the arrival of European strangers.
This was because the people from Europe were traders who traded in woolen blankets, copper kettles, knives and sailing vessels. All these played a significant role in developing the Mi’kmaq people and enlightening them of the new products of early Europe.
Some historical literature works of the 17th century suggest the Mi’kmaq people were fishermen and hunters. They did this as part of their economic activities. The fishing was done by this community at the southwestern coasts of the Newfoundland. They are believed to have been travelling to and from Cape Breton in search of favorite fishing grounds. Their migration was also instigated by the shifting of the breeding grounds of fish and so they moved as the fishes moved as well (Wicken, 45).
The Mi’kmaq people are believed to have lived next to waterways. This was because their prime means of transportation was their famous canoes and birch-barks that carried them for long distance. They traveled in search of new homes. Additionally, the community also travelled for long distances for the purposes of trade.
All they ever needed in their daily lives was provided by their natural environments. For instance, they were fishermen and sometimes hunted in search of red meat. The Mi’kmaq people used their skills and knowledge for survival. For example, their knowledge of seasons and animals placed them in a favorable position for hunting. This helped them in knowing what animals to hunt for during certain seasons and their specific hideouts.
Their knowledge about weather also played an imperative part in their survival (Robertson, 72). This, in addition to the knowledge of seasons, helped the Mi’kmaq people to evade unbearable climatic conditions. It also helped them in knowing where to go in the event that climatic conditions were unfavorable at their current locations.
In the year 1610, the Mi’kmaq formed an alliance with the French after the then grand chief, Membertou, converted to catholic. The French were the forerunners of the Catholic religion. After the then grand chief was baptized into Catholicism, his entire community then embraced the religion too.
This then brought about the settlement of the French amongst the Mi’kmaq people. This was because they had become friendly after agreeing to embrace the same religion. This close association impacted positively on the lives of the Mi’kmaq people since the French offered some sort of protections against invasion by colonialists and land grabbers.
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To this day, the relations the Mi’kmaq people had with the French, Englishmen and the Beothuks is still uncertain. The French, who also carried out fishing activities at the coasts of Newfoundland, are believed to have been at war with the English as from 17th century to 19th century.
Quite a number of historical sources indicate that the French allied with the Mi’kmaq people against the English. They perceived the Englishmen as mere land grabbers and colonialists whose interests were on the rich lands of Nova Scotia (Hornborg, 39). On the contrary, other sources also indicate that the Mi’kmaq people moved to the Newfoundland on their own and that they were not brought to the lands by the French.
They suggest that the French only sought the assistance of the Mi’kmaq people after they had settled on Newfoundland. It is believed that the Mi’kmaq community agreed to join in the war against the English because they had encountered English settlers before in New England.
The relationship of the Mi’kmaq community and the Beothuk people is also full of controversies. Some historical books indicate that the French offered a bounty to the Mi’kmaq people to bring the heads of the Beothuk people.
Others, however, suggest that the existence of the Mi’kmaq community on the island increased the population of the Beothuks in the region. This is an implication that the two communities had a peaceful coexistence and that they had no reasons to wage wars against one another. Besides, there is no mention of a bounty offered to the Mi’kmaq by the French in any pieces that contain French records.
In this regard, it is also important to note that the history and traditions of the Mi’kmaq people contains a number of instances of peaceful coexistence with the neighboring Beothuks. Some historical documents about the Mi’kmaq community indicate that the Beothuks sought refuge in the island during their early periods of arrival and they were housed by the Mi’kmaq people.
The treaties of the Mi’kmaq people
The Mi’kmaq peple are known to have signed quite a number of peace treaties with the British. The expansion of the nation by the addition of Great Britain as one of the districts commenced the signing of peace treaties with the British. This was the 1749 treaty that incorporated Britain as one of the districts. Thereafter, another peace treaty was signed in 1752 by Chief Jean-Baptiste Cope on behalf of Shubenacaide.
The signing of these treaties ended a period of war between these two nations that had lasted for over 75 years. Another peace treaty signed in 1760 played an imperative role in securing the trade in commodities like furs. It also strengthened the relationship between the Mi’kmaq and the British. This was because the treaty was an agreement of tolerance to the British settlement on the island. However, the settlement of the British on the island was not accompanied by formal or legal land surrender.
Even thought the settlement of the British was supposed to be limited and regulated, the British settlers came in large numbers. Their accommodation on the island needed further appeasing and hence they had to sign fresh treaties.
After a series of negotiations, it was agreed that the British had to give regular presents to Mi’kmaq as a way of enhancing the friendly relationship. Despite the agreements reached, the various historical writings that documented the peace agreement between the Mi’kmaq and the British failed to provide exact territorial limits that were agreed upon during the agreements (Paul, 294).
The effects of the treaties signed between the Mi’kmaq and the Britons were felt for quite some time until the invasion of the England Planters. The coming of the United Empire Loyalists on the island also eroded the peaceful coexistence that existed in the community. The coming of these trespassers into the territories of the Mi’kmaq people built a lot of animosity.
In response to the animosity created, the Mi’kmaq reacted by threatening the invaders but all was to no avail. Besides, they tried to back the American Revolution with the aim of getting assistance of kicking the invaders out of their lands but all the efforts bore no fruits. As a result, the Mi’kmaq attacked and butchered some Britons in 1779. This then prompted the then British Captain to physically visit the scene and wage war in retaliation.
A series of wars followed and as a result the Mi’kmaq people were weakened significantly. They then resorted to appealing with the Britons to honor their reciprocal intent of the various treaties signed in the previous years. They appealed to the Britons to honor their promise to give presents to the Mi’kmaq as a way of appeasing them for the accommodation offered.
It took a bit of struggle before the British finally agreed to promote peace. The Britons, who had grown very powerful in the region, accepted to provide relief to the natives. This was, in most occasions, referred to as charity. Despite the fact that the British finally agreed to listen to the pleas of the natives, there were conditions that accompanied these reliefs.
The conditions were going to have significant impacts on the Mi’kmaq people but they were left with absolutely no choice but to agree with the proposals of the British (Hornborg, 79). For instance, the Mi’kmaq community was to abandon its cultural way of life and adopt that of the Britons.
The people were then compelled to stop their regular migration and settle on their farms. That notwithstanding, the children of the natives were compelled to attend classes and gain the British knowledge. This then gave rise to British schools which were meant to accommodate the children of the natives (Robertson, 358).
From then, the Mi’kmaq people lost their command over their land. Their cultural beliefs were eroded and their fertile lands snatched away from them. In addition to that, their children were forced to attend British schools in a bid to gain the British knowledge and adopt their way of life. Even though the treaties signed between the Mi’kmaq and the British were operational, they had not achieved authorized status until 1982 when they were encrypted in the Canadian charter.
The Mi’kmaq demographics
The population of the Mi’kmaq people during the pre-contact period ranged between 3,000 and 30,000 people. However, this number was believed to have been reduced tremendously by a number of factors; most of which were brought about by the invasion of the British. For instance, European diseases such as smallpox claimed many lives in the community. Other factors such as alcoholism and the endless wars also played a role in reducing the population of the Mi’kmaq people.
Despite all these, the population later grew rapidly again before it was stabilized in the 19th century. It is believed that the population grew significantly again later in the 20th century. The average population increase of the people was projected to be roughly 2.5% in the periods between 1965 and 1970 (Davis, 82).
The Mi’kmaq celebrations
The Canadian provinces of Labrador, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have for a long time upheld the celebrations of the Mi’kmaq people. Octobers is considered by these provinces as the month of celebrating the cultures, successes and peace of the community. For instance, October 1st marks the Treaty day. It marks the signing of the peace treaty that was signed in 1752.
The treaty is also called the Treaty of 1752. This treaty was signed by Jean-Baptiste Cope who was given the title of the king’s representative in Shubenacadie. In general, October is the month that is celebrated as the History Month of Mi’kmaq. It incorporates a number of celebrations. The celebrations are conducted at central fields in order to favor all the members of the community. This month is celebrated in a number of ways including songs, traditional dances and traditional foods (Davis, 245).
The events attract an overwhelming crowd. Most of the fans of these events are tourists from all corners of Canada and other parts of the world. This is because the events have captured international attention as a result of their uniqueness and the fan that come along with them.
The Mi’kmaq folklore
It was believed in the Mi’kmaq mythology that evil and wickedness amongst the male in the community make them kill one another. In the event that there was wickedness or evil in the community, the creator would be terrified and he would weep tears of rains in the form of a storm adequate to instigate a deluge.
One of the myths of the community tells a story of a deluge that was caused by evil in the region millions of year ago. It indicates that even though members of the community tried to evade the storm, only one man and one woman survived it and that they were the ones responsible for populating the earth once more (Robertson, 294).
The Mi’kmaq community has three distinct types of oral traditions. These include folktales, legends and myths. The folklore of this society is used to tell tales of the episodes of the early periods. It is through these that narratives of human conception and the starting point of life are told in Mi’kmaq society.
Myths also illustrate the origin of some norms and taboos in the community. They explain the repercussions of some evil deeds. Most of the myths told in this community are undoubtedly untrue but they play a significant role in safeguarding the norms of the community. Other myths are meant to explain the unchangeable facts. For example, there is a myth in this community that tries to explain the reasons for the physical differences between man and woman.
Legends in this community, unlike myths, relate to places. They may either talk about recent occurrences or past events provided they form an intermediary between the people and their land. Folktales also form part of the oral traditions of this community. Virtually all the members of the society take part in them. They were mostly used to pass time especially during long winter nights (Poliandri, 284).
Choyce, Lesley, and Rita Joe. The Mi’kmaq Anthology. Lawrencetown Beach, N. S: Pottersfield Press, 1997. Print.
Davis, Stephen A. Míkmaq: Peoples of the Maritimes. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing, 2007. Print.
Hornborg, Anne-Christine. Mi’kmaq Landscapes: From Animism to Sacred Ecology. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2008. Print.
Paul, Daniel N. We Were Not the Savages: A Míkmaq Perspective on the Collision Between European and Native American Civilizations. Hawthorn, Vic: Fernwood Pub, 2000. Print.
Poliandri, Simone. First Nations, Identity, and Reserve Life: The Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011. Print.
Robertson, Marion. Red Earth: Tales of the Mi’kmaq ; with an Introduction to the Customs and Beliefs of the Mi’kmaq. Halifax: Nimbus Pub, 2006. Print.
Wicken, William C. Mi’kmaq Treaties on Trial: History, Land, and Donald Marshall Junior. Toronto [U. A.: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2002. Print.
Zimmerman, Karla. Canada. Hawthorn, Vic: Lonely Planet, 2008. Print.