The History of the Mi'kmaq People

All of this text for this page was taken from the Micmac Heritage Gallery Catalogue

The Paleo-Indians | Pre-contact Mi'kmaq Life | The Mi'kmaq way of Life

The Mi'kmaq Story

The real story of the First Nations people in North America is a fantastic tale, and one of the longest sagas in the history of this continent. It begins 30,000 to 40,000 years ago with the existence of what archaeologists believe must have been a land bridge between the closest points of modern-day Alaska and Siberia. The bridge is thought to have endured off and on for about 10,000 years until a sudden change in temperature melted the surrounding ice to form what we now know as the Bering Strait.

No one knows for certain when the first hunters crossed the land bridge into North America. But it is most likely they followed trails left behind by animal herds searching for food and water. From there, they followed the northern foothills of the Alaskan ranges before turning south and east toward the Atlantic Provinces.

The Paleo-Indians

The first faint trail of the people known as the Paleo-lndians dates back 12,500 to 20,000 years in North America to Folsom, New Mexico where a college student discovered stone tools. One of the oldest accepted prehistoric sites in Nova Scotia was discovered in Debert and dates back 10,600 years. The site was found during the 1940's while the grounds were being used by the Department of National Defense as a training ground during the Second World War. It wasn't excavated until the mid-1960's when Canadian archaeologist George MacDonald determined the age of the camp by carbon dating artifacts found there.

Seven other prehistoric sites have been identified in the Maritimes: at Dartmouth, Yarmouth and Amherst Shore in Nova Scotia; Quaco Head, Kingsclear and Hogan-Mullin in New Brunswick and at Souris in Prince Edward Island. Scientists disagree on who the inhabitants of these early sites were, but some Mi'kmaqs believe their ancestors had to have been here at least that early in order to develop the complex system of social rules already in place when the first whites arrived.

Pre-contact Mi'kmaq Life

Before Europeans arrived, the entire Maritime region east of the St. John River and west to the St. Lawrence was known as Megumaage. The Mi'kmaqs who lived there had rules in place to regulate everything from sports to politics. The educational system was the link to survival, through the development of specialized hunting skills, the making of traditional equipment, and the creation of traditional clothing made from the skins of animals.

The social system included the concept of sharing the practices and respect of ceremonies and the various songs, chants and dances accompanying wedding, funeral and other traditional ceremonies that the Mi'kmaq people practiced; along with the involvement in competitive traditional sports like canoeing, waltes (a traditional dice game) and archery.

The economic system was co-operative in everything from the quest and distribution of food and trading goods to the consumption of wealth. The political system was democratic and people-oriented. The Mi'kmaq system consisted of seven autonomous districts. Each of the districts was made up of several small villages; each village had a chief, who was chosen for his ability and knowledge of the territory. Each district chose a chief for his ability to lead men and inspire confidence, his territorial knowledge, his understanding of the seasonal habits of animals and his skill as a good spokesman.

There were also regular council meetings held in the Great Lakes region, now known as Ontario. Council discussions were recorded on Wampum Belts kept by each tribe to record its history. Tribe members would attach rows of colored shells to the belts as a way of recording what went on at the meetings. The Mi'kmaq wampum belt was last seen at Chapel Island in the 1940's, and is shown in a photograph on display at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. Where it went after the picture was taken remains a mystery.

The Mi'kmaq way of Life

The english word "wigwam" comes from the Mi'kmaq "wiknom" a dwelling. Wigwams were usually put up by the women and could be built in a day. The basic structure was five spruce poles, lashed together at the top with split spruce root and spread out at the bottom. Birchbark sheets were laid over the poles like shingles.

Clothing was made from the skins of mammals, birds and fish. In the 17th century, and probably earlier, men's garments included a loose robe of fur or skin worn blanket like over the shoulders, open in front and falling to the knees. Leggings of moose, caribou or seal hide were tied at the hip to a leather girdle. Moccasins of moose or seal skin, a tobacco pouch, and various accessories completed the clothing Women wore similar robes and dresses wrapped around the body like a bath towel that fell below the knee and belted at the waist

The wide-bottomed Mi'kmaq canoe was raised at both ends with the sides curving upwards in the middle. Snowshoes and toboggans, both First Nation inventions, were used in winter conditions.

Salmon, sturgeon, porpoises, whales, walrus, seals, lobster, squid, shellfish ski, eels and seabirds and their eggs made up the bulk of the Mi'kmaq diet. They also ate moose, caribou, beaver, porcupine and squirrel. Berries, roots and edible plants were gathered in the summer.

The Mi'kmaq entertained each other with storytelling. Stones often lasted several days and included singing, dancing and feasting. Everyone smoked. Their tobacco was made from red willow bark bearberry leaves and a native tobacco plant. Waltes was a favorite dice game, and is still played today. There were contests of running, wrestling and shooting plus various ball games.

The Mi'kmaq language, one of the Algonquian family of languages, is rich and descriptive. The name for the month of May is Tqoljewikus's, "frog-croaking moon". February is Apiknajit, the "snow blinder". Some modern place names, like Shubenacadie and Musquodoboit, came from Mi'kmaq. The language is still spoken today.



Gisoolg is the Great Spirit Creator who is the one who made everything. The work Gisoolg in Mi'kmaq means " you have been created ". It also means " the one credited for your existence".

The word does not imply gender. Gisoolg is not a He or a She, it is not important whether the Great Spirit is a He or a She.

The Mik'Maq people do not explain how the Great Spirit came into existence only that Gisoolg is responsible for everything being where it is today. Gisoolg made everything.



After the Mi'kmaq world was created and after the animals, birds and plants were placed on the surface, Gisoolg caused a bolt of lightening to hit the surface of Ootsitgamoo. This bolt of lightning caused the formation of an image of a human body shaped out of sand. It was Glooscap who was first shaped out of the basic element of the Mi'kmaq world, sand.

Gisoolg unleashed another bolt of lightening which gave life to Glooscap but yet he could not move. He was stuck to the ground only to watch the world go by and Nisgam travel across the sky everyday. Glooscap watched the animals, the birds and the plants grow and pass around him. He asked Nisgam to give him freedom to move about the Mi'kmaq world.

While Glooscap was still unable to move, he was lying on his back. His head was facing the direction of the rising sun, east, Oetjgoabaniag or Oetjibanoog. In Mi'kmaq these words mean "where the sun comes up " and "where the summer weather comes from" respectively. His feet were in the direction of the setting sun or Oetgatsenoog.

Other Mi'kmaq words for the west are Oeloesenoog, "where the sun settles into a hallow" or Etgesnoog "where the cold winds come from". Glooscap's right hand was pointed in the direction of the north or Oatnoog. His left hand was in the direction of the south or Opgoetasnoog. So it was the third big blast of lightening that caused Glooscap to become free and to be able to stand on the surface of the earth.

After Glooscap stood up on his feet, he turned around in a full circle seven times. He then looked toward the sky and gave thanks to Gisoolg for giving him life. He looked down to the earth or the ground and gave thanks to Ootsigamoo for offering its sand for Glooscap's creation. He looked within himself and gave thanks to Nisgam for giving him his soul and spirit.

Glooscap then gave thanks to the four directions east, north, west and south. In all he gave his heartfelt thanks to the seven directions.

Glooscap then travelled to the direction of the setting sun until he came to the ocean. He then went south until the land narrowed and he came to the ocean. He then went south until the land narrowed and he could see two oceans on either side.

He again travelled back to where he started from and continued towards the north to the land of ice and snow. Later he came back to the east where he decided to stay. It is where he came into existence.

He again watched the animals, the birds and the plants. He watched the water and the sky. Gisoolg taught him to watch and learn about the world. Glooscap watched but he could not disturb the world around him. He finally asked Gisoolg and Nisgam, what was the purpose of his existence. He was told that he would meet someone soon.

The Mi'kmaq people are one of eight principal Woodland Indian tribes, all belonging to the Algonkian family, who originally inhabited what are now the Maritime provinces and the Gaspe region of Quebec. Traditionally each tribe was divided into bands consisting of related families, normally not exceeding 400 members.

The Mi'kmaq people have inhabited the Atlantic coast of Canada for thousands of years. They were a hunter gatherer society, consisting of skilled trappers and trained hunters. The ability to move at a moment's notice was a fundamental principle of their society. Mobility was reflected in their lack of material possessions. Life was not simple, however, a relatively large number of people were able to survive with limited natural resources.

Presently, the Mi'kmaq Nation consists of a total of 27 Bands located in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec.

In Nova Scotia there are 13 Mi'kmaq Bands, five of which can be found on Cape Breton Island: Chapel Island, Eskasoni, Membertou, Wagmatcook and Waycobah.

Traditionally, the Mi'kmaq people believed in one supreme creator - the Great Spirit, who delegated authority through his mediators the sun, moon, earth and stars. The Mi'kmaq never considered themselves better than anyone else, as people and animals were considered equal. As a result, there was respect for animals that were hunted for food and clothing, including prayers given in respect for their lives.

Contact with Europeans in the 1500's dramatically affected the arrangement of Mi'kmaq society. Trade practiced with other tribes was exacerbated to include the European settlers and initiated the beginning of a market economy. Items, formerly of inherent value, became commodities to be traded with the European nations. In turn, this lead to a dependence on foreign markets influencing the degree of Mi'kmaq self-sufficiency. History from that point on, the history of Canada, has been one of dominance over First Nations people. It has influenced current Aboriginal- non-Aboriginal relationships at all levels.

Historical Summary of Important Events

1000 - The Norse made contact with the peoples of the North American continent.

1497 - John Cabot sailed from Bristol to Asia but landed in either Cape Breton or Newfoundland.

1510 - Mi'kmaq Grand Chief Membertou was born.

1534 - Jacques Carter entered the Bay of Chaleur and met with Mi'kmaq people in the area (present day New Brunswick). Furs were exchanged.

1599 - Samuel de Champlain set foot in the New World and was followed by Catholic missionaries.

1605-1607 - The French built a permanent settlement at Port Royal (later to be named Annapolis Royal by the British). The Europeans were welcomed by Mi'kmaq Grand Chief Membertou.

1610 - Grand Chief Membertou and 21 family members were baptized by Abbe Fleche, a European Roman Catholic Priest.

1621 - The name Nova Scotia was given to trerritory that had been the home of the Mi'kmaq people for thousands of years.

1630 - The Mi'kmaq people adopted Saint Anne as their patron saint.

1713 - The Treaty of Utrecht temporarily ended the fighting between the British and the French. The French gave up Mi'kmaq territory to the British through this treaty, and Mi'kmaq land claims were ignored. The first in a series of British treaties involving the Mi'kmaq people, the Treaty of Portsmouth New Hampshire was signed.

1725 - The Mi'kmaq were involved with the signing of the Treaty of Boston. This treaty was supposed to end the fighting between the English and Indian Nations and recognize indigenous hunting, fishing and fowling rights, but fell short of these goals.

1726 - The 1725 treaty was ratified and confirmed by all Nova Scotia tribes.

1749 - Halifax was established on Mi'kmaq territory by Protestant Govenor Edward Cornwallis.

1752 - The Royal Proclaimation was recognized on November 22 by several chiefs including Grand Chief Cope. In the treaty, Mi'kmaq lands and way of life were to be protected.

1755 - The French were expelled from Acadia by the British.

1758 - The french fortress of Louisbourg fell to the British.

1761 - After the defeat of New France, the British issued deveral proclaimations to prevent unreast with the Mi'kmaq people, including the 1761 proclaimation. This proclaimation was issued to protect Indian rights and to ensure further grants or settlements on Mi'kmaq land would be prohibited.

1762 - The southern shore of Nova Scotia from Chaleur Bay to Musquodoboit Bay was reserved for the Mi'kmaq poeple through the 1761 Proclaimation.

1763 - The British Proclaimation of 1763 stated that all lands not already sold or given up to Britain were to be set aside for the Native people.

1776 - The Treaty of Friendship and Alliance was signed between the Mi'kmaq people and the United States to ensure alliances between the two nations. This treaty did not last long because many Mi'kmaq people did not agree to fight in the American army.

1794 - The Jay Treaty was signed between the United States and Great Britain ensuring that Native people could pass between British North America (Canada) and the United States.

1841 - Grand Chief John Denny was born. Denny became the last Mi'kmaq Grand Chief to acquire his title by succeeding his father.

1850 - The post of Commissioner of Indian Lands was established. Without any consultation with Native people the 1850 Act for Lower Canda established criteria for Indian status.

1851 - The criteria for Indian status was revised to state that Indian ancestry would be through the male line. If a Native woman married a non-Native her child would not claim Indian status.

1857 - An Act for the enfranchisement of Indian tribes was introduced, offering 20 hectares of land as an incentive. Natives rejected the Act.

1867- The Dominion of Canada was established. At confederation the control of Native issues was given to the Federal Government.

1868 - The Department of the Secretary of State was established and put in control of Indian matters.

1874 - Gabriel John Sylliboy was born to become the First Mi'kmaq Grand Chief to be elected to this lifetime position.

1876 - The Indian Act was passed, consolidating all previous Indian legislation.

1918 - The idea to combine all 19 Nova Scotan Indian reserves into two locations was introduced.

1942 - The Centralization Policy was introduced with the goal being to centralize all Nova Scotian Mi'kmaq people to one of two locations. The Cape Breton Indians would be located to the Eskasoni Reserve and the mainland Mi'kmaq people to Schubenacadie.

1949 - The govenment had lost interest in Centralization and because of Mi'kmaq resistance only one half of the Nova Scotian Mi'kmaq population was relocated.

1951 - Revisions to the Indian Act removed the ban against Indian ceremonies and removed the clause that forbid Natives from entering public bars.

1958 - Eleven bands were created in Nova Scotia.

1963 - The Acadian Band became the 12th Band in Nova Scotia recognized by the government.

1966 - The Department of Indian and Northern Development was established.

1969 - The Federal government introduced legislation to end the Federal responsibility for Indians and terminate special status for Native peoples. This legislation, referred to as the White Paper, was rejected by the Native peoples of Canada.

1970 - The Federal government began funding Native groups and associations.

1971 - The White Paper was officially withdrawn on March 17, 1971.

1972 - The Native Indian Brotherhood recommended that Indian people take control over their children's education through Native school boards.

1973 - The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development adopted the 1972 education recommendations.

1985 - Discriminatory legislation in the Indian Act was overturned with the introduction of Bill C-31. These ammendments to the Act enabled all Indians who had lost status because of the Act's earlier provisions to have their status restored.

1986 - The First Roman Catholic teepee church in the Atlantic provinces was built on the Millbrook Reserve.

1989 - The Department of Indian and Northern Development introduced alternative funding arrangements for Native bands allowing them greater control over their financial future.

1990 - The failure of the Nova Scotia justice system to serve Mi'kmaq people fairly was highlighted in the Marshall Inquiry Report. The inquiry had investigated the wrongful conviction and 11 year imprisonment of Donald Marshal Jr.

Date summary from Mi'kmaq Past and Present: A Resource Guide . Nova Scotia Department of Education.

I have found much information here on the internet but some stoires and legends are from people who have passed these down to me others I have found on the net.. I have recorded many Legends and Stories on paper and now on the net for you to enjoy..

Mooin, the Bear's Child

Native American Lore

Now in the Old Time there lived a boy called Sigo, whose father had died when he was a baby. Sigo was too young to hunt and provide food for the wigwam, so his mother was obliged to take another husband, a jealous spiteful man who soon came to dislike his small stepson, for he thought the mother cared more for the child than for himself. He thought of a plan to be rid of the boy.

"Wife," said he, "it is time the boy learned something of the forest. I will take him with me today, hunting."

"Oh no!" cried his wife. "Sigo is far too young!"

But the husband snatched the boy and took him into the forest, while the mother wept, for she knew her husband's jealous heart.

The stepfather knew of a cave deep in the forest, a deep cave that led into a rocky hill. To this cave, he led his stepson and told him to go inside and hunt for the tracks of rabbit. The boy hung back.

"It is dark in there. I am afraid."

"Afraid!" scoffed the man. "A fine hunter you'll make," and he pushed the boy roughly into the cave. "Stay in there until I tell you to come out."

Then the stepfather took a pole and thrust it under a huge boulder so that it tumbled over and covered the mouth of the cave completely. He knew well there was no other opening. The boy was shut in for good and would soon die of starvation.

The stepfather left the place, intending to tell the boy's mother that her son had been disobedient, had run off and got lost, and he had been unable to find him. He would not return home at once. He would let time pass, as if he had been looking for the boy. Another idea occurred to him. He would spend the time on Blomidon's beach and collect some of Glooscap's purple stones to take as a peace offering to his wife. She might suspect, but nothing could be proved, and nobody would ever know what had happened.

Nobody? There was one who knew already. Glooscap the Great Chief was well aware of what had happened and he was angry, very angry. He struck his great spear into the red stone of Blomidon and the clip split. Earth and stones tumbled down, down, down to the beach, burying the wicked stepfather and killing him instantly.

Then Glooscap called upon a faithful servant, Porcupine, and told him what he was to do.

In the dark cave in the hillside, Sigo cried out his loneliness and fear. He was only six after all, and he wanted his mother. Suddenly he heard a voice.

"Sigo! Come this way."

He saw two glowing eyes and went towards them, trembling. The eyes grew bigger and brighter and at last he could see they belonged to an old porcupine.

"Don't cry any more, my son," said Porcupine. "I am here to help you," and the boy was afraid no longer. He watched as Porcupine went to the cave entrance and tried to push away the stone, but the stone was too heavy. Porcupine put his lips to the crack of light between boulder and hill side and called out:

"Friends of Glooscap! Come around, all of you!"

The animals and birds heard him and came--Wolf, Raccoon, Caribou, Turtle, Possum, Rabbit, and Squirrel, and birds of all kinds from turkey to Hummingbird.

"A boy has been left here to die," called the old Porcupine from inside the cave. "I am not strong enough to move the rock. Help us or we are lost."

The animals called back that they would try. First Raccoon marched up and tried to wrap his arms around the stone, but they were much too short. Then Fox came and bit and scratched at the boulder, but he only made his lips bleed. Then Caribou stepped up and, thrusting her long antlers into the crack, she tried to pry the stone loose, but only broke off one of her antlers. It was no use. In the end, all gave up. They could not move the stone.

"Kwah-ee," a new voice spoke. "What is going on?" They turned and saw Mooinskw, which means she-bear, who had come quietly out of the woods. Some of the smaller animals were frightened and hid, but the others told Mooinskw what had happened. She promptly embraced the boulder in the cave's mouth and heaved with all her great strength. With a rumble and a crash, the stone rolled over. Then out came Sigo and Porcupine, joyfully.

Porcupine thanked the animals for their help and said, "Now I must find someone to take care of this boy and bring him up. My food is not the best for him. Perhaps there is someone here whose diet will suit him better. The boy is hungry--who will bring him food ?"

All scattered at once in search of food. Robin was the first to return, and he laid down worms before the boy, but Sigo could not eat them. Beaver came next, with bark, but the boy shook his head. Others brought seeds and insects, but Sigo, hungry as he was, could not touch any of them, At last came Mooinskw and held out a flat cake made of blue berries. The boy seized it eagerly and ate.

"Oh, how good it is," he cried. And Porcupine nodded wisely.

"From now on," he said, "Mooinskw will be this boy's foster mother."

So Sigo went to live with the bears. Besides the mother bear, there were two boy cubs and a girl cub. All were pleased to have a new brother and they soon taught Sigo all their tricks and all the secrets of thee forest, and Sigo was happy with his new-found family. Gradually, he forgot his old life. Even the face of his mother grew dim in memory and, walking often on all fours as the bears did, he almost began to think he was a bear.

One spring when Sigo was ten, the bears went fishing for smelts. Mooinskw walked into the water, seated herself on her haunches and commenced seizing the smelts and tossing them out on the bank to the children. All were enjoying themselves greatly when suddenly Mooinskw plunged to the shore, crying, "Come children, hurry!" She had caught the scent of man. "Run for your lives!"

As they ran, she stayed behind them, guarding them, until at last they were safe at home.

"What animal was that, Mother?" asked Sigo.

"That was a hunter," said his foster-mother, "a human like yourself, who kills bears for food." And she warned them all to be very watchful from now on. "You must always run from the sight or scent of a hunter."

Not long afterwards, the bear family went with other bear families to pick blueberries for the winter. The small ones soon tired of picking and the oldest cub had a sudden mischievous thought.

"Chase me towards the crowd," he told Sigo, "just as men do when they hunt bears. The others will be frightened and run away. Then we can have all the berries for ourselves."

So Sigo began to chase his brothers towards the other bears, whooping loudly, and the bears at once scattered in all directions. All, that is, except the mother bear who recognized the voice of her adopted son.

"Offspring of Lox!" she cried. "What mischief are you up to now?" And she rounded up the children and spanked them soundly, Sigo too.

So the sun crossed the sky each day and the days grew shorter. At last the mother bear led her family to their winter quarters in a large hollow tree. For half the winter they were happy and safe, with plenty of blueberry cakes to keep them from being hungry. Then, one sad day, the hunters found the tree.

Seeing the scratches on its trunk, they guessed that bears were inside, and they prepared to smoke them out into the open.

Mooinskw knew well enough what was about to happen and that not all would escape.

"I must go out first," she said, "and attract the man's attention, while you two cubs jump out and run away. Then you, Sigo, show yourself and plead for your little sister. Perhaps they will spare her for your sake."

And thus it happened, just as the brave and loving mother bear had said. As soon as she climbed down from the tree, the Indians shot her dead, but the two male cubs had time to escape. Then Sigo rushed out, crying:

"I am a human, like you. Spare the she-cub, my adopted sister."

The amazed Indians put down their arrows and spears and, when they had heard Sigo's story, they gladly spared the little she- bear and were sorry they had killed Mooinskw who had been so good to an Indian child.

Sigo wept over the body of his foster mother and made a solemn vow.

"I shall be called Mooin, the bear's son, from this day forwards. And when I am grown, and a hunter, never will I kill a mother bear, or bear children!"

And Mooin never did.

With his foster sister, he returned to his old village, to the great joy of his Indian mother, who cared tenderly for the she- cub until she was old enough to care for herself.

And ever since then, when Indians see smoke rising from a hollow tree, they know a mother bear is in there cooking food for her children, and they leave that tree alone.

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