History ~ Pre-contact Lifestyles

Five hundred years ago, 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’kmaw 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.