Mi’kmaq was the spelling of a tribe of Indians that had first contact with European explorers in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Through the years, the name has been changed to what we know today as Mic Mac. The word Mi’kmaq derives from the word nikmak, which means “my kin-friends” or allies. The rich and descriptive Mi’kmaq language was a member of the Algonkin family. Although every Mi’kmaq can understand each other, the dialect varies between bands. For example, the Mi’kmaq spoken in Quebec differs from that in Nova Scotia. The Mi’kmaq tribe settled in southwestern New Foundland in 1630. They were the “first nation people” (Nova Scotia 1) of Nova Scotia and later also settled in New England. They are the dominant tribe in the Canadian Maritimes and are f Roman Catholic faith, (Nova Scotia 1; Wallis and Wallis14, 21-22; Sultzman 1).
In traditional times, men, women and children all wore similar clothing. Pants were made out of animal hide, moccasins made from moose or seal skin, and sleeves made from fur or leather; tobacco pouches were worn by both sexes. Both men and women also wore a loose fur robe, but each sex wore the robe differently. Men wore it draped over the shoulders like a blanket, while women wore the robe wrapped tightly around the body under the arms. Babies were wrapped in fox, swan or goose skins. The skins were tanned by using animal brains, bird liver and oil and also by smoking. Then, in the nineteenth century the clothing of the Mi’kmaq tribe changed and became modernized. The women wore beaded peaked caps and woolen skirts. The men wore clothing that resembled European military uniforms (Nova Scotia 1-2).
Common Mi’kmaq homes were called wigwams. Wigwams were put up by women and usually built in one day. They were made with spruce poles that were tied together at the top and the bottoms of the poles were spread out to make a triangle shape. They then took birch bark, which is waterproof, and layered the sheets over and over until the structure was covered. The top of the wigwam was left open to act as a chimney. Animal furs and woven mats were used as flooring and an animal hide was hung to cover the door opening. Paintings of animals and birds decorated the outsides of the wigwams. When the tribe would move, the birch bark would be removed and taken with them(Nova Scotia 1).
Hunting was the main source of food for the Mi’kmaq. Driving stakes into the streambed trapped larger fish, such as salmon and sturgeon. A net, called an abi, was made with intertwined tree branches. The bait that they used for fishing was called wa’adegon. Fishhooks were made out of copper or a hook shaped bone that was sharpened at both ends. For larger fish, a leister was used. This tool was a three-pronged spear. There was a center point and two points that came out on each side of the middle point. Lobsters and shellfish were dug out of the seabed with sticks and roasted on coals, (Nova Scotia 2-3; Wallis and Wallis 27-28; Davis 27).
Hunting meat changed when the seasons did. During the summer, animals such as moose, caribou, deer, beaver, and porcupine were stalked on foot. Porpoise, walrus, and seal were hunted in the water by canoe in the water. In the winter, they would break
A beavers dam and crack the ice in 40-50 different places. The beavers would then have to come out of the broken holes in the ice. Moose were the Mi’kmaq’s most productive food and were hunted from February to mid March. Meat and fish would then be dried and smoked to preserve them. Berries, roots and edible plants were also a source of food for the Mi’kmaq, (Nova Scotia 3; Davis 27).
The gear used for hunting was mostly man made. Some of items used for hunting were animal bone, teeth, claws, hair, quills, shells, clay, stone, wood, roots and bark. Grinding stone to a sharp edge and a smooth surface made axes. Bows were made of fir, spruce or rock maple. Spears, knives and arrow points were made from chalcedony. Any fine carving was done with beaver teeth, (Nova Scotia 2-3; Wallis and Wallis 28).
The main transportation that the Mi’kmaqs used was the canoe. The canoe was wide bottomed and raised at both ends with sides that curved upwards in the middle, and ranged in length from ten feet to 26 feet long. The canoe was made of birch bark over a light wooden frame. Another method of transportation was the toboggan, or as named by the Mi’kmaq’s, taba’gan. The toboggan was usually six to eight feet long. They also used sleds, or wa’aski’bidek. Sleds and toboggans were used to carry heavy loads over snow. Snowshoes, that were all shaped differently, and woven distinctly for different weather, were also used, (Nova Scotia 3; Wallis and Wallis 51).
Entertainment among the Mi’kmaq’s included story telling, which could last for days, dancing, feasting, Waltes (a dice game), and contests that included running, wrestling, shooting and various ball games. Tobacco smoking was also a form of entertainment. The tobacco was made from red willow bark, bear berry leaves and a native tobacco plant. Tobacco pipes were made of wood or stone. Singing was another part of Mi’kmaq culture. There were three classes of songs. The first, neska wet, consisted of just singing. The second, tcigamaan, was singing and dancing. The third form of song was neska winto. This style of song was only sung when there was a solo singer and dance was sometimes added in. Some of the songs were: Gu’gwetc (The Game Song), Tes’kamwe Tabe’giana (The Snake Song), Ucatolte Tab’giana (The Toad Song), Ad’iuan’ietcitc’ (Goodbye, Little Annie), and Kiste’djuwe’giau (The Captive Song), (Nova Scotia 4; Wallis and Wallis 68, 192-194).
The Mi’kmaqs were divided into seven different nations, with each having their own chief. The Epelwik, “lying on the water”; Eskikewa’kik, “skin dressers territory”; Kespek, “last land”; Kespukwitk, “land’s end”; Siknikt, “drainage place”; Sipekne’katik, “ground nut place”; Wunama’kik, “foggy land”; and in 1860 an eighth nation was added in Southern Newfoundland, Taqamkuk, (Sultzan 1-2).
The population of the Mi’kmaq was originally 3,000 to 30,000 people but usually around 20,000, (Sultzan 1). By 1620, epidemics had reduced the population to less than 4,000. By 1760, the number had fallen to 3,000 and by 1823 the number of Mi’kmaqs fell to an all time low of 1,800. The 1794 Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States allows Mi’kmaqs to go across the border from Canada into the United States, thus, allowing Mi’kmaqs to live freely in the United States, and still be able to go into Canada, (1).
At the present time, there are more than 16,000 (Sultzan 1) registered Mi’kmaqs in Canada with twenty-eight separate groups. The United States and Canada combined have about 25,000 Mi’kmaqs with only one recognized group in the United States. This group is called the Aroostook Band of MicMac and is located in Northern Maine, it has 500 members to date. The ABM was recognized by the state government in 1973 and by the Federal government in 1991. There are more than 2,000 Mi’kmaq living in the Boston, Massachusetts area and several hundred living in New York City, (1).
One might conclude that the Mi’kmaq tribes, in traditional times, lived a common and fruitful life. With only the resources of the land, they managed to overcome many obstacles and keep the Mi’kmaq tradition alive.
Davis, Stephen A. Mi’kmaq. Tantallon, NS: Rour East Publications, 1991. 27.
Nova Scotia Museum. Info sheet-The Mi’kmaq. Online. World Wide Web. http:www.ednet.ns.ca/educ/museaum/arch/infos/mikmaq1.htm. 1-4
Sultzman, Lee. MicMac. Online. World Wide Web. http:www.dickshovel.com/mic.html. 1-2
Wallis, Wilson D. and Ruth Sawtell. The MicMac Indians of Eastern Canada. St. Paul, Minnesota: North Central Publishing Company, 1955. 14, 21-22, 27-28, 51, 68, 192-194.