The Mi’kmaw Nation has lived and occupied the area now known as the Atlantic Provinces and the southern Gaspè Peninsula since time immemorial. This area is known to Mi’kmaw people as Mi’kma’ki The traditional homeland and archaeological findings from both the Debert site in Colchester County and the Red Bridge Pond site in Dartmouth have given evidence of Mi’kmaw presence in and around the area for more than 10,5000 years.
Prior to colonization, the Mi’kmaq lived according to specific laws that were bestowed upon them by the Creator, laws which governed their relationship with the land, nature, and mankind. Their identity as Mi’kmaw people was and continues today to be distinctly linked to this land through their culture, language, and traditions, and as the provider of sustenance and life to the Mi’kmaw they maintain a stewardship relationship to the land they call Mother Earth. Land ownership is one of many European concepts that was foreign to the Mi’kmaw people at the time of contact, for they did not perceive the land as a possession but rather a responsibility bestowed upon them by the Creator.
Mi’kmaw people depended on the land for their sustenance and as such were a nomadic people who lived and travelled throughout Mi’kma’ki according to the time of year and the seasonal pattern. Mi’kma’ki was divided into seven districts:Kespukwitk, Sipekni’katik, Eskikewa’kik, Unama’kik, Epekwitk aq Piktuk, Siknikt, and Kespek. Consequently, in an effort to maintain orderly conduct and good relationships between families, travel throughout Mi’kma’ki was based on respect for those whose hunting territory one may be travelling through. Specific hunting rules and procedures were maintained by Mi’kmaw people and processes were undertaken periodically by local and district chiefs who divided and assigned hunting and fishing territories to Mi’kmaw families. Hunting and fishing practices were based on the common belief of respect for all living things which was the foundation of social order in Mi’kmaw society. All raw materials from animals were used wisely and little was wasted. To do such would show disrespect to the Creator and also the spirit of the animal that the Creator, Kji-Niskam, (also known as the Great Spirit), provided for the Mi’kmaq when he created the land and waters. These hunting practices of the Mi’kmaq were based on the Mi’kmaw concept of Netukulimk – a concept which includes the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well being of the individual and the nation.
Throughout Mi’kma’ki there are sites and areas that are a visual record of the Mi’kmaq peoples’ presence. These sites are considered to be sacred and include such areas as Kejimkujik Park, Bedford Barrens, and the Debert Paleo Indian Site. Although Mi’kmaw history has primarily found its basis in oral tradition, the significance of these sites should not be overlooked because they are tangible aspects of the historical record keeping of the Mi’kmaw people.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Mi’kmaw Nation was self-governing and important decisions were contemplated through the body of the traditional Mi’kmaw government – the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. This structure found its basis at the village level, whereby a local chief presided over the council of Elders of his village or band and was responsible to carry out the decisions of his group of Elders. Although local chiefs did not hold an official position within the Sante’ Mawio’mi, their concerns were brought froth by the district chiefs. The district chief presided over his area’s council of local chiefs with the responsibility for settling issues that might cause serious conflict among the districts or between nations in regard to such matters as treaties, alliances, or in time of war. The Sante’ Mawio’mi consisted of a seat for each of the seven districts and for the Nikanus, Kji-Keptin, Putu’s, and for the Grand Council leader, Kji-Saqmaw (Grand Chief). All discussions within the Council were based on consensus and included mutual respect and trust as a code of governance.
This excerpt from the Mi’kmaw Resource Guide 2007 was made possible through the collaboration of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, and the Native Council of Nova Scotia. The Fourth Edition – 2007 was made possible through the Tripartite Education Committee and was funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Aboriginal Affairs, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, and Canadian Heritage and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
Project Coordinators were Tim Bernard, of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, Rosalie Francis of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, and Spencer Wilmot of the Native Council of Nova Scotia. Contributors included Bernie Francis – Mi’kmaq translation, Kristie Gehue, Julie Martin, Clayton Paul – research, and Mary Martha Sylliboy, © Eastern Woodland Publishing. P.O. Box 1590, Truro, N.S. Canada, B2N 5V3, Telephone 902-895-2038.