The Indigenous Mi’kmak People of Nova Scotia

The Indigenous Mi’kmak People of Nova Scotia

Pronounced meeg maw, the Mi’kmaq are the founding people of the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, of which Nova Scotia is one.

Origins

It is suggested by many prehistorians that, in the Ice Age, groups of people from south-eastern Asia migrated to Australia. Groups from north eastern Asia made the journey to Canada around 14,000 years ago, via a land bridge spanning what is now the Bering Strait, connecting north-eastern Asia and Canada. Others dispute this idea of a land bridge, suggesting that the journeys were made by ocean. Either way, the peoples who settled in Australia, and those who settled in Canada, from Asia, are described as Aboriginal people.

The Mi’kmaq People and the Land of Nova Scotia

The landscape varied, with rugged coastal regions and forests inland. The weather and the terrain to a large extent dictated the way of life. Travel on sea and river was by canoes crafted from birch bark. As the seasons changed, the Mi’kmaq moved location. In spring and summer, they lived by the coast where there was a good source of fish and other sea animals for food. Traditional hunting included using harpoons, nets and hook and line. When the weather became harsh, with severe winter storms, they moved inland to forest areas with shelter from the elements, where animals such as beaver and caribou were hunted. Stocks of fish preserved by drying or smoking were also eaten.

It is recorded that the Mi’kmaq people respected the land that provided their shelter and resources, and the animals they hunted. It was a part of their belief that people should live in harmony with their environment, and strive to use resources well and not waste them. Lessons could certainly be learned from this approach today.

Arrival of Europeans

In 1947, John Cabot (Italian name Giovanni Caboto) was the first European to arrive with an expedition to explore the area. Many different European settlers arrived and left over the years. Eventually, lasting settlements were established. Clearly, these had an effect on the lives of the original people, the Mi’kmaq. It is suggested there was a Mi’kmak legend about blue-eyed people coming from the east which may have had some bearing on the relative acceptance of settlers. Certainly, the settlers benefitted from the survival skills and terrain knowledge of the people who were there long before them. Trading benefitted both peoples, and integration was perhaps relatively smooth, compared to many other histories of new settlers and indigenous peoples.

Reclaiming of Government

From having been almost the sole inhabitants of the region, the Mi’kmaq nowadays comprise just over 2% of the population. Although the original and the newer inhabitants co-existed on the Europeans’ arrival, there was undeniably some loss of traditional way of life for the Mi’kmaq, linked with a lack of coherent voice in government and decision making. In the late twentieth century, moves began to redress this.

One result of this is the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. Made up of thirteen Mi’kmaq chiefs, it is the main decision-making organisation for the Mi’kmaq. It meets monthly to hear what people have to say and to negotiate on their behalf.

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