The Mi’kmaq way of life was very different from what it is today. The Mi’kmaq called themselves “The People”. When meeting the first white men they greeted them by saying “Nikmaq” meaning “kin friends”. The white men adopted the term and began calling the people by this name. Over the years the word gradually changed in punctuation and was written “Mi’kmaq”.
The Mi’kmaq lived a simple life in harmony with nature. Because plant and animal life was important to their survival, the Mi’kmaq held great respect for them. They considered the plants and animals as “persons” who gave themselves to the people so they could survive. The Mi’kmaq only hunted and gathered enough food to provide a comfortable existence, making use of all parts of the animals they hunted. They made clothing from hides, tools and weapons from bones, and oils and fats were used for seasoning. Plants and roots were gathered for food, dyes and medicines.
Our ancestors were very resourceful. They survived by using all the available materials around them. The Mi’kmaq built their wigwams of birch bark and animal hides. They built their first canoes from birch bark, which is a style still in use today. The Mi’kmaq invented snowshoes to allow them to hunt large animals in snow without sinking. The skills needed to make and use these objects were essential for survival, and passed down from one generation to the next.
In Mi’kmaq culture, elders were shown the greatest respect. The Mi’kmaq believed that the elders held a special gift; the gift of knowledge, and it was something their culture could not endure without. With age came experience and knowledge of the Mi’kmaq way of life to be passed down to the next generation.
Mi’kmaq celebrations would last for days with feasting, singing, dancing and various competitions. They celebrated weddings, funerals, the birth of a child and a successful hunt. Storytelling was considered most important to celebrations as elders would gather the children and move to a quiet spot capturing their full attention. The elders would teach the children the truths of the world as they saw it through legends, song and games. They would tell stories of the relationship between people and the plant and animal persons, and why it was important not to misuse them. Stories of the good and the bad ways people got along, why there was war and peace. In this way, the children were taught the history, customs and manners of their people, building pride in their history.
Being adaptive and thriving in harmony with nature required our ancestors to be responsive to the environment. As seasons changed, so too did food supplies in various regions. The seasonal migration patterns were developed from traditional knowledge passed down over generations. That knowledge allowed our ancestors to arrive in an area when food was at its most bountiful.
The Mi’kmaq traveled inland during the winter months, where forests provided them not only with more shelter but the meat and hides of larger animals they could hunt in the forest. In the summer they preferred to camp along the shore, fishing and hunting smaller animals. Our ancestors knew when to arrive at the coast in time for hunting seals, when to get to rich rivers to in time for salmon runs, or when to arrive at a bird colony in time to collect eggs. Extra food was gathered and given to members of their village who were not always able to get enough themselves.
Our ancestors defined our culture as a way to survive the extreme conditions of our territories and learned the powerful benefits of living in harmony with nature. Traditional knowledge of Mi’kmaq helped families and communities find food, but more than that, Mi’kmaq’s developed a great wealth of knowledge in the fields of medicinal plants and natural remedies. The use of these medicines has become inseparable from prayer and spirituality, and form important cornerstones in Mi’kmaq culture. Visit our Medicinal Plants page to learn more.
The government of the Mi’kmaq people followed a rich tradition. The Mi’kmaq government was not unlike today’s federal government. The Mi’kmaq follow the rules and customs handed down through generations. Each band had a hereditary Chief who would consult with a Regional Chief called a “Saqmaw.” Each Regional Chief had a council of Band Chiefs depending of the size of their district.
The Mi’kmaq grand council was made up of Saqmaw’s and a Grand chief called a “Kijsaqmaw”. Chieftainship was usually handed down from father to son. To insure having many sons, the Chief would often take more than one wife.
This grand council would deal with issues that affected the entire nation, such as treaty signings and the negotiations of alliances. Alliances with tribes such as the Malecite and Penobscot were made to establish and maintain peace. The Mi’kmaq believed that peace was very important to the survival of the people and were willing to compromise in order to achieve it.
The material culture of the Mi’kmaq evolved from, and was suited to, using local materials to hunt, gather, and survive in local conditions. Wigwams, canoes, clothing, and many tools were fashioned from local supplies. The skills needed to make these things were essential for survival, and handed down from generation to generation through the teachings of elders.
Our ancestors were well adapted to their environments and in harmony with nature, allowing time to develop many art forms. Music as an example has always been and will continue to be important in our community.
Traditional spirituality and legends are also an important part of our culture. In 1610, Grand Chief Membertou was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith and since then many Mi’kmaq have combined traditional spirituality with Christianity.
The Mi’kmaq language is a member of the Algonquin family of languages. From the 1920s to the 1960s, many young Mi’kmaq were sent to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak Mi’kmaq and therefor lost familiarity with speaking the language.
Over time, the Mi’kmaq language has evolved from the hieroglyphic form to one that uses the modern alphabet system. Many orthographic writing systems have been used in the Mi’kmaq language.
Different orthographies exist to write in Mi’kmaq. The most widely used is the Francis-Smith orthography, developed in 1974. It is used in Nova Scotia and it’s the orthography used by the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. The Listuguj orthography is used in Quebec and is the same as the Francis-Smith except the “k” is replaced by “g”. The Pacifique orthography has been developed in early 20th century by Father Pacifique, but it omits couple vowels. The Rand orthography, developed in late 19th century by Reverand Silas Tertius Rand, is not used anymore and is more complex.
The Lennox Island Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre began in 1973, when John Sark commissioned Mi’kmaq artist Michael Francis to paint murals depicting the Creations Story, on the wall of the Priest House at Lennox Island. The Priest House also exhibited a collection of artifacts donated by Dr. John Maloney and Hubert Sark, as well as many traditional photographs.
It was officially opened on June 28, 2000 by the Honorable Governor General of Canada Adrien Clarkson. The centre has interpretive displays that explain the history, culture, language, spirituality, and religion of the Mi’kmaq through to the present day. These displays, as well as the cultural centre’s artifacts and photographs, positively promote our history and customs. We also feature cross-cultural awareness programs and educational sessions.
For more information, contact the Cultural Centre:
8 Eagle Feather Trail
Lennox Island, PE C0B 1J0
Phone: (902) 831-3109
Jamie Thomas – Director of Cultural & Tourism
To see a list of unique First Nation cultural experiences that are offered by the Lennox Island Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre please click here (https://experiencelennoxisland.com/)