Mi'kmaq\Acadie Ties

Strong bonds between Mi’kmaq and Acadians: echoing harmonies of friendship, footprints on a path walked together.

Photo courtesy of L'Nuey

Les ancêtres Mi’kmaq se sont établis sur l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard il y a plus de 12 000 ans. Le nom de cette nation vient de ni’kmaq, « mes proches parents ».  

The ancestors of the Mi’kmaq arrived on Prince Edward Island more than 12,000 years ago. Their Nation’s name comes from the word ni’kmaq, meaning “my kin-friends.”
The Mi’kmaq of the Atlantic Coast have, throughout history, been perceived as “people of the sea.” Mastering the art of navigation, they took to the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in canoes. They were recognized as skillful astronomers, using the Milky Way and constellations to guide their movements, and they handled European vessels as adeptly as the French sailors. Nomadic hunters and collectors, they were also known to be highly skilled fishers.

Mi’kma’ki is the name given to the territory of the Mi’kmaq Nation, which extends from the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, eastern New Brunswick, all of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and as far as southern Newfoundland. The Nation is divided into eight districts, the one that includes the Island was named Epekwitk aq Piktuk (PEI and Pictou), or “lying in the water and the explosive place” 

First contact

The first contact between Mi’kmaq and the Europeans is believed to have been made in the late 15th century primarily with European explorers and fishers, and trading ties were promptly established. The Indigenous people soon began bartering their seafaring experience for European goods, just as they did later on with their knowledge about the forest and the fur trade. Besides goods, they also exchanged customs. In addition to establishing strong trading ties, the parties fostered other types of alliances over time: friendship and marriage. By 1600, a number of Mi’kmaq and French had exchanged vows at Annapolis Royal, thereby creating blood ties. Many people today are able to confirm Indigenous ancestry on one, or both, sides! Over the centuries, many Indigenous surnames were incorrectly transcribed or modified in some cases; in others, Mi’kmaq couples changed names shortly before marrying.

Based on the tangible and intangible evidence left behind, the Acadians and Mi’kmaq forged solid bonds with one another. Apart from the fact that the Acadians made no effort to displace the Mi’kmaq, the two peoples were drawn together naturally based on their shared values, such as respect for one’s neighbour, democratic practices, community well-being, a desire for continued peace, the importance of oral traditions, music, dance and much more.

History books are filled with tales about the kindness, hospitality and cooperation of the Mi’kmaq, who adopted, helped, protected and supplied food to the Acadians as the latter sought to adapt to the New World and a new way of life. They taught the Acadians how to fish, hunt, make clothes and build canoes. They taught them how to insulate their homes against the cold and treat ailments by harnessing the power of “natural medicine.”

In addition to forging strong ties in terms of shared values and practices, each people borrowed words from the other’s language. Examples include the following:

• Atouray (Pidgin Basque): atla:y (Mi’kmaq): shirt
• Adiu (Basque) and adieu (French): atiyu (Mi’kmaq): goodbye
• L’assiette (French): lasiyet (Mi’kmaq): plate
• La cheminée (French): lasinamey (Mi’kmaq): chimney
• Les clous (French): pleku (Mi’kmaq): nails
• Magasin (French): makasan (Mi’kmaq): store
• Matelot (French): matlot (Mi’kmaq): sailor
• La moutarde (French): lamutta:lt (Mi’kmaq): mustard
• Ma poche (French): mapos (Mi’kmaq): my pocket
• Sainte-Anne (French): Se:ta:n (Mi’kmaq): St. Anne
• Noël (French): Nuwel (Mi’kmaq) = Christmas

Key Events

The Acadians landed on the Island in 1720 after being strongly encouraged to settle there to farm the land and supply food to the population of the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. When the Acadians arrived on the Island’s shores, they encountered monumentally gruelling hardship and were unable to grow enough food even for themselves. Had they not fostered friendship with the Mi’kmaq, they would have died of hunger.
During the British occupation of Mi’kmaq lands, and hearing of the cordial relations between the Acadians and Mi’kmaq, the British governor published a proclamation prohibiting the entertaining of Mi’kmaq by Acadians.
Port-la-Joye becomes the scene of celebrations and giving of presents between the French and the Mi’kmaq celebrating their alliance. These celebrations went on to take place annually from 1726 to 1754, even under British government rule. The celebrations would include Mi'kmaq from all over Mi’kma’ki.
The British prohibit all trading between Mi’kmaq and the French of Acadia.
Start of the Acadian Deportation. The ethnic cleansing operation called the “Grand Dérangement” continued from 1755 through 1763. Approximately 10,000 Acadians were deported to English colonies, France and the Caribbean. The Mi’kmaq did not stand idly by while the British were deporting their Acadian neighbours: their warriors took up arms and fought alongside the Acadians in numerous skirmishes, and Mi’kmaq on the Island provided refuge to more than 2,000 fugitive Acadians.  
After peace was negotiated between France and Great Britain and the Treaty of Paris was signed, a number of families and individuals gradually returned to the Island, which was now under the British flag. Many of those who returned found themselves fishing for English business owners. These Acadians came back to the Island from Chaleur Bay, southeastern New Brunswick, the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon and as far away as France. 
By 1800 it became evident that the Mi’kmaq did not have land left on which to continue their traditional way of life. In 1808, the “Indians of Lennox Island” presented a petition to the Island government requesting that it purchase that small island for them. Concerned citizens wrote letters to the government of PEI asking for its compassion for the “abject poverty of the Indians” and assistance to prevent their imminent extinction. 
Between 1880 and 1996, more than 150,000 children across the country were forced into residential schools. In 1883, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald proclaimed, “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.” And so began the First Nations cultural genocide. Only two provinces refused to set up residential schools: New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. 
Although the Great Deportation, combined with the First Nations cultural genocide, broke both these peoples and frayed their close ties, they showed resilience and courage over the ensuing years. Today, Acadians and members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation continue to stand tall and celebrate the strength and pride of their unique and shared heritage. 

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