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The Mi’kmaq People’s Culture, Education, Economics Essay

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Updated: Aug 16th, 2020

Introduction

The Mi’kmaq people are one of the native tribes that occupied North America for millenniums before Europeans discovered the continent. During this period, the Mi’kmaq territory included present-day Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and parts of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Maine. The Mi’kmaq way of life was greatly disrupted by their encounter with European settlers in the 16th century.

These settlers were attracted to the Mi’kmaq territory because of its abundance in natural resources such as fish, timber, and wildlife. While the initial relationship between the First Nation tribes and the Europeans was cordial, it changed when the Europeans invaded the coastal provinces and forcefully took the land from the Mi’kmaq. The aboriginals were forced into reserves, and the government attempted to get them to adopt the mainstream European culture.

However, in spite of the aggressive assimilation attempts by the European government, the natives have continued to exist as a unique cultural entity in Canada. The Mi’kmaq people have attained a special status in Canada, and their communities are seen as distinct cultural and political entities. This paper will set out to discuss the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia with a particular focus on their culture, education, and economic activities.

Mi’kmaq culture

An integral part of the Mi’kmaq culture is their language. The original language of this native community is the Mi’kmaq language, which belongs to the Algic language family. The Mi’kmaq people communicated primarily in this language before the Europeans came to the continent. The interaction with Europeans had a detrimental effect on the language. Specifically, the efforts by successive governments to assimilate the Mi’kmaq led to a loss of the native language.

Mi’kmaq children were taken to boarding schools where they were instructed in English or French and forbidden to communicate in their native language. Due to this intentional strategy to destroy their language, most Mi’kmaq members demonstrate a higher proficiency in English and French than in their native tongue. However, efforts have been made to reverse the loss of the Mi’kmaq language. Some of the communities in Nova Scotia have initiated language reconstruction. This has contributed to the preservation of the language in the community. In addition to this, education reforms have contributed to the increase in the use of the native language. Mi’kmaq children in Nova Scotia are taught their native language in school as part of their curriculum.

Religion plays a significant role in the lives of the Mi’kmaq. Many members of this community have embraced Christianity, which is the religion that was introduced to the continent by the European settlers. The majority of the natives in Nova Scotia are practicing Catholics. Even so, some aspects of the traditional religion practiced by the Mi’kmaq in the pre-colonization era still persist. The traditional religion emphasizes the strong connection between people and the environment. Through Mi’kmaq spirituality, the natives gain an understanding of their role here on earth. Their religion also explains the connection that the entire human community has and what values lead to a good life. Various religious rituals are carried out by the Mi’kmaq. They include prayers, burning incense, and chanting ancient hymns.

The Mi’kmaq people express themselves using various art forms. They are able to produce unique artworks using skills that have been handed down through the centuries. The skilled artisans in the community produce various artifacts using porcupine quills. This craft is difficult to master since the quills are stiff, and using them for weaving is a laborious task. The natives make products such as baskets, moccasins, and shirts using the quills.

The Mi’kmaq people demonstrate great expertise in the use of beads to produce jewelry and other beautiful pieces of art. Music plays a crucial role in the lives of the Mi’kmaq in Canada. They use this art form to express emotions and celebrate major events. Traditional Mi’kmaq songs are sung on various occasions, including monumental events such as marriages and funerals. A popular instrument among the Mi’kmaq is the hand drum, which is used in most traditional songs.

Politics

From the beginning of the 19th century, the Colonial Government adopted policies aimed at dispossessing and displacing the Mi’kmaq from their ancestral homelands. The autonomy of the natives was violated, and their political rights discarded. The lack of political power contributed to the gross violations that the Mi’kmaq faced over the past two centuries. The Mi’kmaq have endeavored to gain political representation in modern-day Canada. In Nova Scotia, the Aboriginal people have created and joined various political organizations. The Native Council of Nova Scotia is one of the bodies through which the Mi’kmaq advocate for their social and political rights. Through this organization, the natives can collectively lobby for changes to improve their social and economic conditions in the Province.

The increased political activity by the Mi’kmaq has led to more dialogue with the Governments of Canada and Nova Scotia. This constructive dialogue has led to many positive outcomes for the native community. For example, the rights of the Mi’kmaq to exploit the natural resources in their territory have been affirmed by the Nova Scotia government. In addition to this, the government has given the native communities the power to influence local laws. The Nova Scotia government has also recognized the right of the Aboriginals to self-governance and it has therefore left some of the local decision making duties to the Mi’kmaq community.

Education

Education has played an important role in the history of the Mi’kmaq since the establishment of European settlements in Canada. The education provided to the First Nation tribes by the government of Canada and its predecessor governments has been an important element in an overall policy of assimilation. Education has served as a means of replacing native language, culture, and history with that of the European settlers.

The government hoped to achieve the complete loss of the native culture by introducing children to the European culture while at the same time keeping them away from their native traditions. However, the attempts to assimilate the Mi’kmaq through education have failed and children who have gone through the European system of schooling have continued to hold onto some of the traditional cultural values and language of the Mi’kmaq. In recent years, the Mi’kmaq people have been given greater control over the education of their children.

The first major step towards giving the Mi’kmaq greater control over the education of their children occurred in 1971. During this year, the House of Commons received the Watson Report, which listed some recommendations on the education of Indians. The report declared that the assimilation policies of the Canadian government were detrimental to the educational outcomes of First Nation children.

It recommended including cultural content in the curriculum and implementing intensive Indian language programs in schools for Indian children. These recommendations of the report were implemented in 1999, when the Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia were granted the right to manage their children’s education. From then on the Mik’maq community, with the help of government support, has created a school curriculum that has significant cultural content.

In addition to this, the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq schools provide language immersion courses to ensure that students are conversant in their native language. This culturally appropriate school system has led to an increase in the success rate of students. The educational environment encourages continued participation of Native students who proceed to graduate from high school in larger numbers.

Economic Activities

The Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia is keen to perpetuate its rich hunting culture. The Canadian government acknowledges the right of the Mi’kmaq community to engage in hunting. Mi’kmaq elders in Nova Scotia teach the young how to hunt and gain sustenance from the land. An important component of Mi’kmaq hunting is that it endeavors not to harm the environment. The reason for this is that the Mi’kmaq people have a strong connection to the environment. After each kill, the Mi’kmaq hunters take part in a thanksgiving ceremony to the creator. The ceremony demonstrates the great connection that this community has to the environment.

Fishing has been an integral part of Mi’kmaq life. Historically, these natives occupied the Maritime Provinces meaning that they were always in close proximity to large water bodies. Fishing provided a way for the Mi’kmaq to get additional food for domestic consumption and trade. The Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia still engages in fishing for food. However, the fish supplies in Nova Scotia have greatly reduced due to overfishing. This has led to intensive regulation of the fishing industry by the Government. Aggressive regulation by the Federal government led to the denial of the rights to fish for many natives.

However, the Mi’kmaq people have asked to be granted some fishing rights in Nova Scotia since they are natives with inherent Aboriginal Rights. This has led to some positive results with the government granting the Mi’kmaq the right to fish in order to sustain a moderate livelihood.

Conclusion

This paper set out to discuss the culture, education, and economic activities of the Mi’kmaq. The paper began by acknowledging that this group occupied part of North America for millenniums. The culture of the Mi’kmaq was greatly affected by the establishment of European settlements in the continent in the 17th century. Contact with the Europeans led to the loss of sovereignty and culture by the Mi’kmaq. Over the course of the next two centuries, the federal government engaged in actions aimed at ending the existence of the native tribes by assimilating them into the dominant European culture.

However, this First Nation tribe has managed to preserve its cultural identity in spite of attempts by the Federal government to destroy their unique identity. The past two decades have witnessed a renewal of interest in the traditional culture of the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. This First Nation Tribe has also gained some political power in the Province. The natives have been given greater control over the education of their children. The paper has discussed the hunting and fishing activities of the Mi’kmaq. The information provided in this paper helps the reader develop a better understanding of the Mi’kmaq people.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Mi’kmaq People's Culture, Education, Economics'. 16 August.

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