Indian Portage
With gratitude to the Canadian National Archives

A member tribe of the Abenaki Confederacy. At the time of European contact, the Mi'kmaq occupied Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, the northern portion of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. They are the Souriquois of the Jesuit Relations and the Gaspesians of LeClercq. Like their neighbors, the Maliseet, the Micmac remained allies of the French throughout the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A Mi'kmaq community was also established in Newfoundland, at Conne River, in the nineteenth century. The Micmac and the Maliseet subsisted on a wide variety of riverine resources, including salmon, striped bass, eel and gaspereau. Along coastal areas, seal hunting and shellfish gathering were important. During the winter months, they relied heavily on moose, caribou and porcupine for subsistence.

The name Mi'kmaq comes from the word «nikmak», which means, «my close relatives ». The correct spelling of their name is Mikmag however the use of Micmac became very popular over the centuries. The Mi'kmaq were called various other names, depending on the language spoken by the Europeans they got into contact with or the place they met: Indian from Cape Sable, Gaspesians or Mi'kmaq from Gaspé, Matueswiskitchinuuk (Maliseet « porcupine Indian »), shonack (Beothuk « bad Indian »), Souriquois (name used by French) and Torrateen (name used by English). However, between themselves, the Mi'kmaq called each other "L'nu'k" which means the people. The Mi'kmaq share many similarities with the Maliseets of New Brunswick and the Abenaki of New England, with the exception being that they were not farmers. Many believe the Mi'kmaq come from Northern Canada only because their language has common characteristics with Cree.

Before the European settlement, the Mi'kmaq lived mainly in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick and in southern part of Gaspé Peninsula. Nomadic people, hunter-gatherers, they lived in wigwams that were built and taken down in a day, made of spruce, wood, bark, and pine branches, with the inside floors covered in fur for comfort. The big wigwams could shelter ten to twelve people. The wigwams are different from tepees; the latter were made of animal skin and were never used by the Mi'kmaq. To move in the forest or the region's turbulent rivers, the Mi'kmaq used snowshoes, canoes and toboggans. Their clothes were made out of mammal skin, bird feathers and fish scales to protect them against the winter cold and were also used for ceremonies and rituals. The animal bones and tendons were used to sew together animal skins to make dresses, skirts or coats, etc. The clothes were decorated with things that the Mi'kmaq picked all around. Bones, tendons and animal teeth were also used to make tools as well as stones, roots, tree barks and clay. Men were in charge of making tools whereas women were in charge of making clothes as well as crafts such as baskets.

The Mi'kmaq were the first Indians to come into contact and befriend Europeans. The Vikings and Basque fishermen were distant towards this people, considered primitive because of their different lifestyle and language. John Cabot was the first European explorer who took three Amerindians to England in 1497. The relationship between the Mi'kmaq and the Europeans improved with the dawn of the exploration era undertaken by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French and the English in their efforts to discover a route to the Orient and its much sought-after spices. The Mi'kmaq traded their fur for European pearls, fabric and firearms. To satisfy an ever-increasing demand for fur, the Mi'kmaq formed an alliance with the Algonquins residing inland, while the European firearms acquired through trade rendered them practically invincible. These two factors largely explain the sudden disappearance of the Iroquois people from the Saint Lawrence River valley, and their replacement, as of 1608, by the Montagnais and other Algonquin-speaking tribes.

Pierre Dugua de Mons and Samuel Champlain came into contact with the Mi'kmaq in 1605 when the French settled at Port-Royal, then inhabited by the Amerindians. The settlers had first lived in Sainte Croix Island, near the Abenaki and Maliseet villages. The French had continued trading with the Abenaki of Penobscot, who had prospered so fast they created a strong alliance that threatened the Mi'kmaq. Wars between Amerindians caused quite a stir in the region however wasn't the only cause of mortality in the Mi'kmaq nation: European diseases, unknown to Mi'kmaq were a big factor. Epidemics had significantly reduced the number of individuals by 1620. Furthermore the adoption of European lifestyle and the conversion to Christianity led to partition within the Mi'kmaq i.e., the traditionalists and the modernists. The settling process of the Mi'kmaq by the English in 1763 wasn't much appreciated and the efforts to initiate them to farming miserably failed. The Mi'kmaq later became an affordable manpower in the transport and forestry industries to the detriment of their traditional activities, which led to major socio-cultural changes. Nowadays, there are approximately 15,000 Mi'kmaq in the Maritimes. Salmon fishing is still the only source of income for some of them.

© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
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2006- Present

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