The Miꞌkmaq (also Mi'gmaq, Lnu, Miꞌkmaw or Miꞌgmaw; ; Miꞌkmaq: [miːɡmaɣ]) are a First Nations people of the Northeastern Woodlands, indigenous to the areas now known as Canada's Atlantic Provinces and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec as well as the northeastern region of Maine. They call their national territory Miꞌkmaꞌki (or Miꞌgmaꞌgi). The nation has a population of about 170,000 (including 18,044 members in the recently formed Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland), of whom nearly 11,000 speak Miꞌkmaq, an Eastern Algonquian language. Once written in Miꞌkmaw hieroglyphic writing, it is now written using most letters of the Latin alphabet.
The Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Pasamaquoddy Nations, whose traditional lands are in the Atlantic region of what is now Canada, signed a series of treaties known as the Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship Treaties with the British Crown throughout the eighteenth century; the first was signed in 1725, and the last in 1779. The Peace and Friendship Treaties did not cede or give up their land title or other rights. The landmark 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v Marshall upheld the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty "which promised Indigenous Peoples the right to hunt and fish their lands and establish trade."
The Miꞌkmaw Grand Council is the official consultative authority that engages with the Canadian federal government and the provincial government of Nova Scotia as established by the historic August 30, 2020 agreement with the Miꞌkmaq Nation, resulting from the Miꞌkmaq–Nova Scotia–Canada Tripartite Forum. This collaborative agreement, which includes all the First Nations within the entire province of Nova Scotia, was the first in Canadian history. Historically the Santé Mawiómi, or Grand Council, which was made up of chiefs of the district councils of Miꞌkmaꞌki, was the traditional senior level of government for the Miꞌkmaw people. The 1876 Indian Act disrupted that authority, by requiring First Nations to establish representative elected governments and attempting to limit the Council's role to that of spiritual guidance.
On August 30, 2020 the Miꞌkmaw Nation and the Nova Scotia provincial government reached an historic agreement, be affirming that the Miꞌkmaw Grand Council was the official consultative authority that engages with the Canadian federal government and the provincial government of Nova Scotia. The Miꞌkmaq–Nova Scotia–Canada Tripartite Forum preceded the agreement. The August 2020 agreement made Canadian history as the first such collaborative agreement, which included all the First Nations within the entire province of Nova Scotia.
Historically the Santé Mawiómi, or Grand Council, which was made up of chiefs of the district councils of Miꞌkmaꞌki, was the traditional senior level of government for the Miꞌkmaw people. The 1876 Indian Act disrupted that authority, by requiring First Nations to establish representative elected governments and attempting to limit the Council's role to that of spiritual guidance.
In addition to the district councils, the Mꞌikmaq have been traditionally governed by a Grand Council or Santé Mawiómi. The Grand Council was composed of Keptinaq ("captains" in English), who were the district chiefs. There were also elders, the putús (wampum belt readers and historians, who also dealt with the treaties with the non-natives and other Native tribes), the women's council, and the grand chief. The grand chief was a title given to one of the district chiefs, who was usually from the Miꞌkmaw district of Unamáki or Cape Breton Island. This title was hereditary within a clan and usually passed on to the grand chief's eldest son.
On June 24, 1610, Grand Chief Membertou converted to Catholicism and was baptised. He concluded an alliance with the French Jesuits. The Miꞌkmaq, as trading allies with the French, were amenable to limited French settlement in their midst.
Gabriel Sylliboy (1874 – 1964) a respected Mi'kmaq religious leader and traditional Grand Chief of the Council—became the Council's first elected Grand Chief in 1918, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1927, Grand Chief Sylliboy was charged with hunting muskrat pelts out of season. He was the first to use the rights defined in the Treaty of 1752 in his court defence. He lost his case. In 1985, the 1752 treaty rights were finally recognized following the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Simon. On the 50th anniversary of his death, the Grand Council approached the Nova Scotia government to request a pardon. It was granted by Premier Stephen McNeil in 2017. Then Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, John James Grant, McNeil, and the Justice Minister Diana Whalen, pardoned Sylliboy and issued a formal apology"—the "second posthumous pardon in Nova Scotia's history". His grandson, Andrew Denny, who is now the Grand Keptin of the Council, said that his grandfather had "commanded respect. Young people who were about to get married would go and ask for his blessing. At the Chapel Island Mission boats would stop if he was crossing."
Traditionally, the Grand Council met on a little island on the Bras d'Or lake in Cape Breton called Mniku. Today the site is within the reserve called Chapel Island or Potlotek. To this day, the Grand Council still meets at Mniku to discuss current issues within the Miꞌkmaq Nation. Taqamkuk was defined as part of Unamaꞌkik historically and became a separate district at an unknown point in time.
The , petroglyphs of "life-ways of the Mi'kmaw", include written hieroglyphics, human figures, Mi'kmaq houses and lodges, decorations including crosses, sailing vessels, and animals, etched into slate rocks—attributed to the Mi'kmaw who have continuously inhabited the area since prehistoric times.:1 The petroglyphs date from the late prehistoric period through the nineteenth century.:32 A well-known Mi'kmaq Jerry Lonecloud (1854 – 1930)—the "ethnographer of the Micmac nation"—who is credited with producing the first Mi'kmaq memoir, recorded in the 1920s, had also transcribed some of the Kejimkujik petroglyphs in 1912, which he donated to the Nova Scotia Museum.:6
In the late late 1670s, a French missionary in the Gaspé Peninsula, Chrestien Le Clercq, was inspired by the hieroglyphics made by a young Mi'kmaq using charcoal on birchbark. Leclercq expanded on the Mi'kmaq hieroglyphs to teach Catholic prayers and hymns.
In 1866, Christian Kauder, who was a missionary in Miꞌkmaꞌki from 1856 to 1871, included samples of Mi'kmaq hieroglyphic writing, such as the Holy Mary Rosary prayer and the "Our Father", in his German Christian catechism.
In their 1995 book, David L. Schmidt and Murdena Marshall published some of the prayers, narratives, and liturgies represented by hieroglyphs—pictographic symbols—that had been first developed by pre-contact Mi'kmaq, and then used by French missionaries to teach the Catholic religion to the Mi'kmaw. Schmidt and Marshall showed that these hieroglyphics served as a fully functional writing system, making it the oldest writing system for a native language north of Mexico.
By the 1980s, the spelling of the ethnonym Miꞌkmaq—preferred by the Miꞌkmaw people—was widely adopted by scholarly publications and the media, replacing the previous spelling—Micmac.:3[Notes 1] Although this older spelling is still in use, the Miꞌkmaq consider the spelling Micmac to be "tainted" by colonialism. The "q" ending is used in the plural form of the noun, and Miꞌkmaw is used as singular of Miꞌkmaq and as the adjective, for example, "the Miꞌkmaw nation". The Miꞌkmaq prefer to use one of the three current Miꞌkmaq orthographies when writing the language.[Notes 2] Other spellings used by Mi'kmaq people include Miꞌkmaq (singular Miꞌkmaw) in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland; Miigmaq (Miigmao) in New Brunswick; Miꞌgmaq by the Listuguj Council in Quebec; and Mìgmaq (Mìgmaw) in some native literature.
Lnu (the adjectival and singular noun, previously spelled "L'nu"; the plural is Lnúk, Lnuꞌk, Lnuꞌg, or Lnùg) is the term the Miꞌkmaq use for themselves, their autonym, meaning "human being" or "the people". Members of the Miꞌkmaq historically referred to themselves as Lnu, but used the term níkmaq (my kin) as a greeting.
Various explanations exist for the origin of the term Miꞌkmaq. The Miꞌkmaw Resource Guide says that "Miꞌkmaq" means "the family".[Notes 3] The Anishinaabe refer to the Miꞌkmaq as Miijimaa(g), meaning "The Brother(s)/Ally(ies)", with the use of the nX prefix m-, opposed to the use of n1 prefix n- (i.e. Niijimaa(g), "my brother(s)/comrade(s)") or the n3 prefix w- (i.e., Wiijimaa(g), "brother(s)/compatriot(s)/comrade(s)").
According to Red earth: tales of the Mi'kmaq , originally published by Marion Robertson in the 1960s from the Nova Scotia Museum,:5 Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye was the first to record the name "Micmac", when he used it in his 1676 memoir.:5 Robertson cited a Professor Ganong who suggested that is was probable that the word megamingo (earth)—that Marc Lescarbot had used—was the origin of the name "Micmac.":5 Mi'kmaq may have thought of themselves as "the Red Earth People, or the People of the Red Earth". Megumaagee ,the name the Mi'kmaq used to describe their land, and Megumawaach —what they called themselves were linked to the words megwaak, which refers to the colour red, and magumegek, "on the earth".:5 Rand translated megakumegek as "red on the earth", "red ground", or "red earth".:5 Other suggestions from Robertson include its origin in nigumaach, which means "my brother" or "my friend", or a term of endearment Stansbury Hagar suggested in "Micmac Magic and Medicine" that the word megumawaach is from megumoowesoo in reference to magic.
Miꞌkmaw territory, known as Miꞌkma'ki, is traditionally divided into seven districts. Prior to the imposition of the Indian Act, each district had its own independent government and boundaries. The independent governments had a district chief and a council. The council members were band chiefs, elders, and other worthy community leaders. The district council was charged with performing all the duties of any independent and free government by enacting laws, justice, apportioning fishing and hunting grounds, making war and suing for peace.
The eight Miꞌkmaw districts (including Ktaqmkuk which is often not counted) are Epekwitk aq Piktuk (Epegwitg aq Pigtug), Eskikewaꞌkik (Esgeꞌgewaꞌgi), Kespek (Gespeꞌgewaꞌgi), Kespukwitk (Gespugwitg), Siknikt (Signigtewaꞌgi), Sipekniꞌkatik (Sugapuneꞌgati), Ktaqmkuk (Gtaqamg), and Unamaꞌkik (Unamaꞌgi). The orthography between parentheses is the Listuguj orthography used in the Gespeꞌgewaꞌgi area.
In 1997, the Miꞌkmaq–Nova Scotia–Canada Tripartite Forum was established. On August 31, 2010, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia signed a historic agreement with the Miꞌkmaw Nation, establishing a process whereby the federal government must consult with the Miꞌkmaw Grand Council before engaging in any activities or projects that affect the Miꞌkmaq in Nova Scotia. This covers most, if not all, actions these governments might take within that jurisdiction. This is the first such collaborative agreement in Canadian history including all the First Nations within an entire province.
On September 17, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the treaty rights of Miꞌkmaw Donald Marshall Jr. its landmark R v Marshall ruling, which "affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a 'moderate livelihood'." The Supreme Court also cited Section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act in their 1999 ruling that resulted in Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Peskotomuhkati people the "right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a 'moderate livelihood' from the resources of the land and waters." The legal precedent had previously been established in the Treaty of 1752, one in a series of treaties known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties, but was not being respected prior to R v Marshall. This resulted in the 1993 charges laid against Marshall Jr. for "fishing eels out of season, fishing without a licence, and fishing with an illegal net". In the 2018 publication, , Marshall was quoted as saying, "I don’t need a licence. I have the 1752 Treaty." The 1989 resulted in a compensation to Marshall of a lifetime pension of $1.5 million. Marshall used the financial compensation to finance the lengthy and costly Supreme Court case. When Marshall won, 34 Mi'kmaw and Maliseet First Nations bands were affected in the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and the Gaspé region of Quebec. The West Nova Fishermen's Coalition submitted an appeal asking for the Marshall decision to be set aside. In November 17, 1999, released a new ruling —Marshall 2—to clarify that the DFO had the power to regulate the fishery for conservation purposes if it "consulted with the First Nation and could justify the regulations".[Notes 4]Truth and conviction: Donald Marshall Jr. and the Mi'kmaw quest for justice
Soon after the September 17 decision, Miramichi Bay— "one of Canada's most lucrative lobster fisheries"— became the site of a violent conflict between Mi'kmaw fishers and non-Mi'kmaw commercial fishers. Immediately after the ruling, Mi'kmaw fishers began to lay lobster traps out of season. Incidents such as the Burnt Church Crisis were widely covered by the media from 1999 and 2002. On October 3, 1999, non-Indigenous commercial fishers in 150 boats destroyed hundreds of Mi'kmaw lobster traps, then returned to shore and vandalized fishing equipment, as well as three fish plants. This was captured and documented in the 2002 National Film Board feature-length documentary Is the Crown at war with us? by Alanis Obomsawin. The documentary also described how Ocean and Fisheries department officials seemed to "wage a war" on the Mi'kmaw fishermen of Burnt Church, New Brunswick with "helicopters, patrol boats, guns, with observation by airplanes and dozens of RCMP officers". The documentary asks why the fishers were being harassed for "exercising rights that had been affirmed by the highest court in the land." Following lengthy negotiations with the Mi'kmaq, the DFO developed the $160 million Marshall Response Initiative, which operated until 2007, through which the DFO offered to purchase over 1,000 commercial fishing licences, including boats and gear, to support the expansion of the Mi'kmaw lobster fishery. By mid-2000, about 1,400 commercial fishermen stated their intention to retire over 5,000 licences. On August 20, 2001, the DFO issued a temporary license to Burnt Church Mi'kmaw fishers while negotiations for a more permanent agreement were underway. The DFO license had restrictions that some Burnt Church fishers refused— the fishers could not sell their lobsters, they could only use them for food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) purposes. The "Aboriginal right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes (FSC)" was confirmed in the landmark 1990 R. v. Sparrow Supreme Court case which cited section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act, 1982.[Notes 5] In May 2003, the House of Commons' Standing Committee On Fisheries And Oceans chaired by MP Tom Wappel, submitted its report on fisheries issues, which "recommended that all charges stemming from the [confrontation over the lobster fisheries]" be dropped and that the fishers should be compensated by federal government for "their lost traps and boats." The report said that Mi'kmaw fishers have the "same season as non-native fishermen" and could not therefore, fish in the fall. It recommended that "native bands be issued licences, which they would distribute to native fishermen."
On the tenth anniversary of the benchmark decision, CBC News reported that "Maritime waters" were "calm a decade after Marshall decision."
However, by 2020, the Fish Buyers' Licensing and Enforcement Regulations, under the 1996 N.S. Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, remains in effect—as it does in other Atlantic provinces. These regulations do not mention the Mi'kmaq or the Marshall decision. These regulations prevent Mi'kmaw lobster fishers from selling their lobster to non-Mi'kmaq. Mi'kmaw fishers say that this does not align with the Marshall decision. In 2019, the government of the Listuguj First Nation in the Bay of Chaleur developed their own self-regulated lobster fisheries management plan and opened their own lobster fishery in the fall of 2020. Under the existing Fish Buyers' Licensing Regulations the self-regulated Listuguj fisheries can harvest, but can only use the lobster for "food, social and ceremonial purposes".
According to Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation, early in 2020, a negotiator for the DFO had offered Nova Scotia First Nations nearly $87 million for boats, gear, and training, with the condition that the First Nations would not practice their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood fishing (ie out of the DFO season) for a period of 10 years. The proposal did not define "moderate livelihood", and was rejected.
On November 9, 2020, a group of Miꞌkmaq First Nations and Premium Brands Holdings Corporation announced their $1 billion purchase of Clearwater Seafoods, which was finalised on January 25, 2021. The group of First Nations includes Sipekne’katik, We’koqma’q, Potlotek, Pictou Landing, and Paqtnkek First Nations, and is led by Membertou and Miapukek First Nations. The purchase represents the "largest investment in the seafood industry by a Canadian Indigenous group". The harvest of non-Indigenous fishermen in the region will now be purchased by Clearwater Seafoods' Miꞌkmaq part owners.
Starting in September 2020, there has been an ongoing highly-charged conflict in St. Marys Bay, Nova Scotia— the Kespukwitk (also spelled Gespogoitnag) district of Mi'kma'ki— between Miꞌkmaw and non-Miꞌkmaw lobster fishers engaged in the inshore fishery, that is rooted in the Marshall decision, and exacerbated by decades of various levels of government and authorities, mishandling and neglecting local concerns, according to the media. The inshore fishery is the last small-scale fishery in Nova Scotia. St. Marys Bay is part of Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34, making it the "largest lobster fishing area in Canada with more than 900 licensed commercial fishermen harvesting from the southern tip of Nova Scotia up to Digby in the Bay of Fundy." It is also "one of the most lucrative fishing areas in Canada". DFO reported that as of December 2019, there were 979 commercial lobster licenses in LFA 34. In September 2020, following the opening of their own fishery, Sipekne'katik First Nation had issued seven lobster licenses to band members— each license has 50 tags— representing a combined total of 350 tags. One commercial lobster license represents 350 tags.
Although the Mi'kmaw fishers have been granted access by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to the "commercial fishery through communal licences operated by the bands", Canada has never fully implemented the Marshall Decision.
On September 11, Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack sent a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil, DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan and Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman, calling for them “to uphold the rule of law amid ongoing violence, threats, human rights discrimination and ongoing failure to uphold the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Marshall, recognizing the Mi’kmaq right to fish and trade.” By that point, vehicles and property belonging to members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation had already been damaged and stolen, including boats being burned. There were already planned protests by non-Indigenous fishers to block the Mi'kmaw fishers' access to several wharves. One such protest took place on September 15 at Saulnierville and Weymouth wharves.
On September 17, Sipekne'katik launched a "moderate livelihood fishery" with a ceremony at the Saulnierville wharf, the first lobster fishery regulated by Miꞌkmaq in Nova Scotia. On September 18, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Miꞌkmaw Chiefs declared a province-wide state of emergency in response to threats by commercial and non-indigenous fishers, including some that had cut the Miꞌkmaw lobster traps. On September 25, the Sipekne'katik fishery released its proposed regulations allowing the legal sale of seafood harvested under the fishery to Indigenous and non-Indigenous consumers and wholesalers. However, at the time of the announcement, Nova Scotia's Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act prohibited anyone in Nova Scotia from purchasing fish from "a person who does not hold a valid commercial fishing license issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada," which would include the fishery.
On October 1, Potlotek First Nation and Eskasoni First Nation launched their own moderate livelihood fishery in a celebration at Battery Provincial Park that coincided with Mi'kmaq Treaty Day. The management plan behind this fishery had been in development for three months, prompted by the seizure of lobster traps by DFO officials. Community licenses issued through this fishery will entitle fishers to 70 tags, and boats will be allowed to carry up to 200 lobster traps each. At the time of the launch of the Potlotek fishery, Membertou was also planning on launching their own fishery, following a similar plan. After the launch of this fishery, DFO officers continued to seize Mi'kmaw traps.
Harassment around the Sipekne'katik fishery has through October. On October 5, Sipekne'katik fisher Robert Syliboy, a holder of one of the moderate livelihood fishery's licenses, found his boat at the Comeauville wharf destroyed in a suspicious fire. On the evening of October 13, several hundred non-Indigenous fishers and their supporters raided two storage facilities in New Edinburgh and Middle West Pubnico that were being used by Miꞌkmaw fishers to store lobsters. During the raids, a van was set aflame, another vehicle was defaced and damaged, lobsters being stored in the facilities were destroyed, and the New Edinburgh facility was damaged, while a Miꞌkmaw fisher was forced to barricade himself inside the facility in Middle West Pubnico. Indigenous leaders called the raids racist hate crimes and called on the RCMP to intervene, citing their slow response on the evening and lack of arrests even a day after the police claimed they "witnessed criminal activity". Social media posts from the commercial fishers and their supporters claimed that the lobsters taken in the raids were removed as they represented "bad fishing practices" on the part of the Miꞌkmaq, but Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack and a worker at the Middle West Pubnico facility claimed the lobsters that were stored there were caught by the commercial fishers, not Miꞌkmaw. Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde, federal Fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan, and Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association, all condemned the violence. Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil maintained his position that this issue must be solved federally when asked about it at a press conference. Several months later, in January 2021, the manager of the Middle West Pubnico facility, James Muise, made a public post in a Facebook group for commercial fishers, claiming that he gave the people involved in the raids permission to enter the facility and take the lobsters. Muise offered to work with people charged with offenses connected to the raids and try to get those charges dropped.
Chief Mike Sack was sucker punched while trying to give a press conference on October 14. Also during the violence, an elder had sage knocked out of her hand while smudging, and a woman was grabbed by the neck.
On October 15, the Miꞌkmaq Warrior Peacekeepers arrived at the Saulnierville wharf with the intention of providing protection to Miꞌkmaq who were continuing to fish amid the violence.
On Friday, October 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government was "extremely active" in trying to de-escalate the situation. He also stated that he expected the police to be keeping people safe, and acknowledged concerns that the police had not been doing so.
Three days after the initial raids on the storage facilities, on the evening of October 16, the Middle West Pubnico facility was destroyed in a large fire, deemed "suspicious" by the RCMP. One man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries after the fire, but the RCMP did not provide details regarding the man's association to the lobster pound, other than that he was not an employee. The destruction led to further calls from Chief Sack for increased police presence, as well as an appeal from the Maritime Fisherman's Union for the federal government to appoint an independent mediator.
On October 16, Mi'kmaw lobster fishers from the Sipekne'katik First Nation quickly sold all their lobsters after setting up shop in front of the Province House in Halifax with potential customers lined up around the block. The fishers said they were putting pressure on Premier McNeil to act.
On October 17, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, released a Twitter statement requesting that the federal government define "what constitutes legal harvesting in a "moderate livelihood" fishery.
On October 21, Sipekne'katik managed to secure an interim injunction against the restriction of band members' access to the Saulnierville and Weymouth wharves, as well as the New Edinburgh lobster pound. The motion for the injunction was filed ex parte due to the urgency of the situation, as the band was struggling to sell any of their catch in the midst of the violence and protests. The injunction will remain in place until December 15, 2020.
On October 23, the Mi'kmaw Rights Initiative (known as the KMKNO for "Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office") announced that talks with the DFO over defining "moderate livelihood" had broken down. The following Wednesday (October 28), Terry Paul, chief of Membertou First Nation, stepped down from his position with KMKNO and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs, saying "[his] confidence in the operations of the organization [sic] have weakened over time," citing issues of transparency, and preferring to pursue treaty rights negotiations outside of the Assembly. Membertou's withdrawal follows Sipekne'katik's own withdrawal earlier in the month on October 6, leaving the Assembly as a representative of 10 of the 13 Mi'kmaw First Nation bands (Millbrook having also withdrawn earlier). According to Paul, when he talked with the other ANSMC Chiefs about his decision, there seemed to be a willingness to deal with the issues he had identified in the negotiation process, so that he could rejoin shortly.
In January 2021, 23 people were charged in connection to the violence at the lobster storage facilities on October 13, 2020: 15 for break-and-enter and 8 for break-and-enter and mischief. Their court date is set for March 29, 2021.
Intimidation over the fishery dispute has continued into 2021. In mid-January, lobster harvester and Sipekne'katik citizen Jolene Marr, whose brother was surrounded in the West Pubnico lobster pound on October 13, was sent a seven second-long close-up video of a man's face that included what "sounds like a racial slur and six gunshots in the background."
In 2005, Nova Scotian Miꞌkmaw Nora Bernard led the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history, representing an estimated 79,000 survivors of the Canadian Indian residential school system. The Government of Canada settled the lawsuit for upwards of CA$5 billion.:190
In the fall of 2011, there was an that travelled to various communities in Atlantic Canada, who were all served by the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. In his 2004 book entitled Legacies of the Shubenacadie Residential School, journalist Chris Benjamin wrote about the "raw wounds" of Miꞌkmaw children who attended the Shubenacadie institution in the period spanning over three decades—from 1930 through 1967.:195
One positive outcome of the TRC, was the establishment in 1982 of the first Miꞌkmaq-operated school in Nova Scotia—the Miꞌkmaq Kinaꞌ matnewey,:208 which was the result of a collaboration between the Miꞌkmaw community and the Nova Scotia government. The school is the most successful First Nation Education Program in Canada, according to Benjamin.
By 1997, all Miꞌkmaq on reserves were given the responsibility for their own education.:210 By 2014, there were 11 band-run schools in Nova Scotia,:211 and the province has the highest rate of retention of aboriginal students in schools in Canada.:211 More than half the teachers are Miꞌkmaq.:211 From 2011 to 2012 there was a 25% increase in Miꞌkmaw students going to university. Atlantic Canada has the highest rate of aboriginal students attending university in the country.:214
In southwestern Nova Scotia, there is archaeological evidence that traces traditional land use and resources to least 4,000 years.:23 In , there are canoe routes that have been used for thousands of years by indigenous people travelling from the Bay of Fundy to the Atlantic ocean.
In his Memorial University Masters thesis, Mi'kmaw elder, Roger Lewis, investigated how pre-contact Mi'kmaq populations had a reciprocal relationship with the environment that was reflected in subsistence fishing, hunting and gathering, as well as in settlement locations.:10 Lewis, who has held the position of ethnology curator at the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax, since 2007 focused his MA research specifically on pre-contact fish weirs in southwestern Nova Scotia.
In the chapter "Late Prehistory of the East Coast" in the Smithsonian's 1978 Handbook of North American Indians, archaeologist Dean Snow says that the fairly deep linguistic split between the Miꞌkmaq and the Eastern Algonquians to the southwest suggests the Miꞌkmaq developed an independent prehistoric cultural sequence in their territory. It emphasized maritime orientation, as the area had relatively few major river systems.:69 In the chapter "Early Indian-European Contact" in the 1978 Handbook, ethnologist T. J. Brasser, described how pre-contact small semi-nomadic bands of a few patrilineally related families indigenous people who lived in a climate unfavorable for agriculture, had subsisted on fishing and hunting. Developed leadership did not extend beyond hunting parties.:78 In the same 1978 Handbook, anthropologist Philip Bock described the annual cycle of seasonal movement of precontact Miꞌkmaq. Bock wrote that the Mi'kmaq had lived in dispersed interior winter camps and larger coastal communities during the summer. The spawning runs of March began their movement to converge on smelt spawning streams. They next harvested spawning herring, gathered waterfowl eggs, and hunted geese. By May, the seashore offered abundant cod and shellfish, and coastal breezes brought relief from the biting black flies, deer flies, midges and mosquitoes of the interior. Autumn frost killed the biting insects during the September harvest of spawning American eels. Smaller groups would disperse into the interior where they hunted moose and caribou. The most important animal hunted by the Miꞌkmaq was the moose, which was used in every part: the meat for food, the skin for clothing, tendons and sinew for cordage, and bones for carving and tools. Other animals hunted/trapped included deer, bear, rabbit, beaver and porcupine.
Braser described the first contact between the Mi'kmaq and early European fishermen.:79–80 These fishermen salted their catch at sea and sailed directly home with it, but they set up camps ashore as early as 1520 for dry-curing cod. During the second half of the century, dry curing became the preferred preservation method.:79–80 Brasser said that, trading furs for European trade goods had changed Miꞌkmaw social perspectives. Desire for trade goods encouraged the men devoting a larger portion of the year away from the coast trapping in the interior. Trapping non-migratory animals, such as beaver, increased awareness of territoriality. Trader preferences for good harbors resulted in greater numbers of Miꞌkmaq gathering in fewer summer rendezvous locations. This in turn encouraged their establishing larger bands, led by the ablest trade negotiators.:83–84
According to the Nova Scotia Museum, bear teeth and claws were used as decoration in regalia. The women used porcupine quills to create decorative beadwork on clothing, moccasins, and accessories. The weapon used most for hunting was the bow and arrow. The Miꞌkmaq made their bows from maple. They ate fish of all kinds, such as salmon, sturgeon, lobster, squid, shellfish, and eels, as well as seabirds and their eggs. They hunted marine mammals such as porpoises, whales, walrus, and seals.
Miꞌkmaw territory was the first portion of North America that Europeans exploited at length for resource extraction. Reports by John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, and Portuguese explorers about conditions there encouraged visits by Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, French, and English fishermen and whalers, beginning in the 16th century.
European fishing camps traded with Miꞌkmaw fishermen; and trading rapidly expanded to include furs, according to Thomas B. Costain, (1885 – 1965) , a journalist who wrote historical novels. By 1578, some 350 European ships were operating around the Saint Lawrence estuary. Most were independent fishermen, but increasing numbers were exploring the fur trade.
In the wake of King Philip's War between English colonists and Native Americans in southern New England (which included ), the Miꞌkmaq became members of the Wapnáki (Wabanaki Confederacy), an alliance with four other Algonquian-language nations: the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet. The Wabanaki Confederacy was allied with the Acadian people.
Over a period of seventy-five years, during six wars in Miꞌkmaꞌki, the Miꞌkmaq and Acadians fought to keep the British from taking over the region (See the four French and Indian Wars as well as Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre's War). France lost military control of Acadia in 1710 and political claim (apart from Cape Breton) by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht with England.
But the Miꞌkmaq were not included in the treaty, and never conceded any land to the British. In 1715, the Miꞌkmaq were told that the British now claimed their ancient territory by the Treaty of Utrecht. They formally complained to the French commander at Louisbourg about the French king transferring the sovereignty of their nation when he did not possess it. They were informed that the French had claimed legal possession of their country for a century, on account of laws decreed by kings in Europe, that no land could be legally owned by any non-Christian, and that such land was therefore freely available to any Christian prince who claimed it. Miꞌkmaw historian Daniel Paul observes that, "If this warped law were ever to be accorded recognition by modern legalists they would have to take into consideration that, after Grand Chief Membertou and his family converted to Christianity in 1610, the land of the Miꞌkmaq had become exempt from being seized because the people were Christians. However, it's hard to imagine that a modern government would fall back and try to use such uncivilized garbage as justification for non-recognition of aboriginal title.":74–75
Along with Acadians, the Miꞌkmaq used military force to resist the founding of British (Protestant) settlements by making numerous raids on Halifax, Dartmouth, Lawrencetown and Lunenburg. During the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War between France and Britain in Europe, the Miꞌkmaq assisted the Acadians in resisting the British during the Expulsion. The military resistance was reduced significantly with the French defeat at the Siege of Louisbourg (1758) in Cape Breton. In 1763, Great Britain formalized its colonial possession of all of Miꞌkmaki in the Treaty of Paris.
Between 1725 and 1779, the Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqey (Maliseet), and Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) signed the Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship Treaties through which they entered into a "peaceful relationship with the British Crown." Through these treaties—which were referenced as legal precedent by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Marshall— the Mi'kmaq "did not cede or give up their land title and other rights."
The first treaty signed in 1725, after Father Rale's War, did not cede hunting, fishing and gathering rights, although this had been disputed by the authorities. The final treaties of 1760-61, marked the end of warfare between the Miꞌkmaq and the British, which was marked with the June 25, 1761 Governor's Farm Ceremony.
The 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty Between His Majesty the King and Jean-Baptiste Cope, on behalf of the Shubenacadie Miꞌkmaq has been cited in the Supreme Court of Canada's 1985 decision in R. v. Simon. In his 2002, book on the Marshall case, historian William Wicken said that there is no written documentation to support this assertion that Cope made the treaty on behalf of all the Miꞌkmaq. :184 has been cited in the Supreme Court of Canada's 1985 decision in R. v. Simon. With the signing of various treaties, the 75 years of regular warfare ended in 1761 with the Halifax Treaties.
Although the treaties of 1760-61 contain statements of Miꞌkmaw submission to the British crown, later statements made by Miꞌkmaw reveal that they intended a friendly and reciprocal relationship, according to the 2009 book, Nova Scotia: a pocket history , by Saint Mary's University history professor, John G. Reid and Brenda Conroy.:23 In the early 1760s, there were approximately 300 Miꞌkmaw fighters in the region and thousands of British soldiers. The goals of the Miꞌkmaw treaty negotiators engaged in the 1760 Halifax treaty negotiations, were to make peace, establish secure and well-regulated trade in commodities such as furs, and begin an ongoing friendship with the British crown. In return, the Mi'kmaq offered friendship and tolerance of limited British settlement, although without any formal land surrender, according to Reid and Connor.:23 To fulfill the reciprocity intended by the Miꞌkmaq, that any additional British settlement of land would have to be negotiated, and accompanied by giving presents to the Miꞌkmaq. The documents summarizing the peace agreements failed to establish specific territorial limits on the expansion of British settlements, but assured the Miꞌkmaq of access to the natural resources that had long sustained them along the regions' coasts and in the woods. Their conceptions of land use were quite different. In his 2003 book about the British expulsion of the Acadians, University of Cincinnati history professor, Geoffrey Plank, described the relationship between the Mi'kmaq and Acadians as strong. The Miꞌkmaq believed they could share their traditional lands with both the British and the Acadians—with the Mi'kmaq hunting as usual, and getting to the coast for seafood.:163
The arrival of the New England Planters and United Empire Loyalists in greater number put pressure on land use and the treaties. This migration into the region created significant economic, environmental and cultural pressures on the Miꞌkmaq. The Miꞌkmaq tried to enforce the treaties through threat of force. At the beginning of the American Revolution, many Miꞌkmaw and Maliseet tribes supported the Americans against the British. They participated in the Maugerville Rebellion and the Battle of Fort Cumberland in 1776. Miꞌkmaw delegates concluded the first international treaty, the Treaty of Watertown, with the United States soon after it declared its independence in July 1776. These delegates did not officially represent the Miꞌkmaw government, although many individual Miꞌkmaq did privately join the Continental Army as a result. In June 1779, Miꞌkmaq in the Miramichi valley of New Brunswick attacked and plundered some of the British in the area. The following month, British Captain Augustus Harvey, in command of HMS Viper, arrived and battled with the Miꞌkmaq. One Miꞌkmaw was killed and 16 were taken prisoner to Quebec. The prisoners were eventually taken to Halifax. They were released on 28 July 1779 after signing the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown.
As their military power waned in the beginning of the 19th century, the Miꞌkmaw people made explicit appeals to the British to honor the treaties and reminded them of their duty to give "presents" to the Miꞌkmaq in order to occupy Miꞌkmaꞌki. In response, the British offered charity or, the word most often used by government officials, "relief". The British said the Miꞌkmaq must give up their way of life and begin to settle on farms. Also, they were told they had to send their children to British schools for education.
In 1986, the first Treaty Day was celebrated by Nova Scotians on October 1, 1986 in recognition of the treaties signed between the British Empire and the Miꞌkmaw people.
The treaties were only formally recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada once they were enshrined in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. The first Treaty Day occurred the year after the Supreme Court upheld the Peace Treaty of 1752 signed by Jean-Baptiste Cope and Governor Peregrine Hopson.
Walter Bromley was a British officer and reformer who established the Royal Acadian School and supported the Miꞌkmaq over the thirteen years he lived in Halifax (1813-1825). Bromley devoted himself to the service of the Miꞌkmaw people. The Miꞌkmaq were among the poor of Halifax and in the rural communities. According to historian Judith Finguard, his contribution to give public exposure to the plight of the Miꞌkmaq "particularly contributes to his historical significance". Finguard writes:
Bromley's attitudes towards the Indians were singularly enlightened for his day. ... Bromley totally dismissed the idea that native people were naturally inferior and set out to encourage their material improvement through settlement and agriculture, their talents through education, and their pride through his own study of their languages.
Silas Tertius Rand in 1849 help found the Micmac Missionary Society, a full-time Miꞌkmaw mission. Basing his work in Hantsport, Nova Scotia, where he lived from 1853 until his death in 1889, he travelled widely among Miꞌkmaw communities, spreading the Christian faith, learning the language, and recording examples of the Miꞌkmaw oral tradition. Rand produced scriptural translations in Miꞌkmaq and Maliseet, compiled a Miꞌkmaq dictionary and collected numerous legends, and through his published work, was the first to introduce the stories of Glooscap to the wider world. The mission was dissolved in 1870. After a long period of disagreement with the Baptist church, he eventually returned to the church in 1885.
The Miꞌkmaq practice of playing ice hockey appeared in recorded colonial histories from as early as the 18th century. Since the nineteenth century, the Miꞌkmaq were credited with inventing the ice hockey stick.:60 The oldest known hockey stick was made between 1852 and 1856. Recently, it was sold for US$2.2 million. The stick was carved by Miꞌkmaq from Nova Scotia, who made it from hornbeam, also known as ironwood.
In 1863, the Starr Manufacturing Company in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, began to sell the Mic-Mac hockey sticks nationally and internationally.:61 Hockey became a popular sport in Canada in the 1890s.:58 Throughout the first decade of the 20th century, the Mic-Mac hockey stick was the best-selling hockey stick in Canada. By 1903, apart from farming, the principal occupation of the Miꞌkmaq on reserves throughout Nova Scotia, and particularly on the Shubenacadie, Indian Brook and Millbrook Reserves, was producing the Mic-Mac hockey stick.:61 The department of Indian Affairs for Nova Scotia noted in 1927 that the Miꞌkmaq remained the "experts" at making hockey sticks.:73 The Miꞌkmaq continued to make hockey sticks until the 1930s, when the product was industrialized.:63
Jerry Lonecloud worked with historian and archivist Harry Piers to document the ethnography of the Miꞌkmaw people in the early 20th century. Lonecloud wrote the first Miꞌkmaw memoir, which his biographer entitled "Tracking Dr. Lonecloud: Showman to Legend Keeper". Historian Ruth Holmes Whitehead writes, "Ethnographer of the Micmac nation could rightly have been his epitaph, his final honour."
In 1914, over 150 Miꞌkmaw men signed up during World War I. During the First World War, thirty-four out of sixty-four male Miꞌkmaq from Lennox Island First Nation, Prince Edward Island enlisted in the armed forces, distinguishing themselves particularly in the Battle of Amiens. In 1939, over 250 Miꞌkmaq volunteered in World War II. (In 1950, over 60 Miꞌkmaq enlisted to serve in the Korean War.)
In 2011, the Government of Canada announced recognition by an order-in-council to a group in Newfoundland and Labrador called the Qalipu First Nation. The new band, which is landless, had accepted 25,000 applications to become part of the band by October 2012. In total over 100,000 applications were sent in to join the Qalipu, equivalent of 1/5 of the province's population. Several Miꞌkmaw institutions, including the Grand Council, had argued that the Qalipu Miꞌkmaq Band did not have legitimate aboriginal heritage and was accepting too many members. In November 2019, all concerns about Miꞌkmaw Legitimacy had been addressed, and the Qalipu First Nation was accepted by the Miꞌkmaq Grand Council as being part of the Miꞌkmaq Nation. Chief Mitchell stated, “Our inclusion into the AFN, APC and acknowledgement by the Mi’kmaq [sic] Grand Council are important to us; it is part of our reconciliation as Mi’kmaq [sic] people. Friendships are being formed, and relationships are being established. It is a good time for the Qalipu First Nation.”
Some Miꞌkmaw people practice the Catholic faith, some only practice traditional Miꞌkmaw religion; but many have adopted both religions because of the compatibility between Christianity and traditional Miꞌkmaw faith.
The Miꞌkmaw people had very little in the way of physical recording and storytelling; petroglyphs, while used, are believed to have been rare. In addition, it is not believed that pre-contact Miꞌkmaq had any form of written language. As such, almost all of Miꞌkmaw traditions were passed down orally, primarily via storytelling. There were traditionally three levels of oral traditions: religious myths, legends, and folklore. This includes Miꞌkmaw creation stories and myths which account for the organization of the world and society; for instance, how men and women were created and why they are different from one another. The most well known Miꞌkmaw myth is that of Glooscap. Good storytellers are highly prized by the Miꞌkmaq, as they provide important teachings that shape who a person grows to be, and they are sources of great entertainment.
There is one myth explaining that the Miꞌkmaq once believed that evil and wickedness among men is what causes them to kill each other. This causes great sorrow to the creator-sun-god, who weeps tears that become rains sufficient to trigger a deluge. The people attempt to survive the flood by traveling in bark canoes, but only a single old man and woman survive to populate the earth.
One spiritual capital of the Miꞌkmaq Nation is Mniku, the gathering place of the Miꞌkmaw Grand Council or Santé Mawiómi, Chapel Island in Bras d'Or Lake of Nova Scotia. The island is also the site of the St. Anne Mission, an important pilgrimage site for the Miꞌkmaq. The island has been declared a historic site.
Miꞌkmaw names in the following table are spelled according to several orthographies. The Miꞌkmaw orthographies in use are Miꞌkmaw pictographs, the orthography of Silas Tertius Rand, the Pacifique orthography, and the most recent Smith-Francis orthography. The latter has been adopted throughout Nova Scotia and in most Miꞌkmaw communities.
The pre-contact population is estimated at 3,000–30,000. In 1616, Father Biard believed the Miꞌkmaw population to be in excess of 3,000, but he remarked that, because of European diseases, there had been large population losses during the 16th century. Smallpox and other endemic European infectious diseases, to which the Miꞌkmaq had no immunity, wars and alcoholism led to a further decline of the native population. It reached its lowest point in the middle of the 17th century. Then the numbers grew slightly again, before becoming apparently stable during the 19th century. During the 20th century, the population was on the rise again. The average growth from 1965 to 1970 was about 2.5%.
Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):