October is Mi’kmaq History Month. Do you know its significance? Recently I was fortunate to attend a talk given by Stephen Augustine at Unama’ki College where he spoke about the history and significance of Mi’kmaq History Month and Treaty Day. Everyone at Cape Breton University was welcome to attend and, given the numbers that attended, they may have to rethink where the next talk will take place! It was a full house in the student lounge at Unama’ki College.
Dean Augustine provided a timeline from the early 1600’s to the present day, telling us about his perspective on the historical relationships that existed between the Mi’kmaq and Acadians, and the French and the land. None of the history was new to me. I grew up in Cape Breton and I learned about these events in a grade 8 social studies class. The Micmacs (as written in my Grade 8 text books) were here and befriended the French when they arrived. They worked together for years, were hunting and fishing in similar areas, and there was some co-habitation as well. Together they fought against the British when they arrived. Then there were wars, the British took Louisbourg; the French took it back years later, and so on. However, this time the story was told from a different perspective and I was listening in a different context. Dean Augustine added some context around the political environment and changes in those relationships and dynamics over time. It was the same story I’d always been told, the places, timelines, and participants were the same. But, by looking at the events through a different lens and thinking about them from the perspective of Mi’kmaw Elders and leaders, everything changed.
As he spoke I was reflecting on current events and how miscommunication and misunderstanding influence so many of the issues we hear about in the news today. Some of the miscommunication happens because of language differences, but even among people who speak the same language there can be misunderstandings because of different perspectives. We all experience the world from our own perspective and can only try to understand the experiences of others and how they may differ. That means there is always going to be diversity of opinions even within communities who share similar culture and history. As Dean Augustine said at the end of his presentation, “We are a diverse people.” So, for me the significance of Mi’kmaq History Month is that we are all encouraged for one month of the year to put extra effort into honouring the role of the Mi’kmaw in local history and to honour the Treaties that were agreed to and reinforced annually on October 1.
On a side note, I find it exciting to be working at Cape Breton University and in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) now, where there seems to be movement towards creating spaces where events like this can happen. Although we all have different perspectives or differing opinions about issues it is possible to gather in safe places like Unama’ki College with others. Where students, faculty, and staff can assemble to hear stories from a perspective we don’t often hear. Hopefully when they leave they have learned something new or will reflect differently on their own opinions and perceptions and share their learnings in a positive way with others.
- Mary Beth