Upon the coastal lands of Northern Spain and Southern France, there lives a culture and people that has called this territory home for over six-thousand years. They communicate in the most ancient language spoken in all of Europe and contain a genetic makeup that has baffled anthropologists for years. They are the Basques and they have seen entire kingdoms rise and fall from their lands surrounding the impenetrable Pyrenees Mountains of Western Europe. The Basque people survived the rule and downfall of the Roman empire, the Gothic Raids of the Middle Ages and the great rise of Mercantile powers to usher in the modern world, all while retaining their ancient language and culture.
Among these ancient traditions that have survived over six millennia is a strong connection to the sea and the resources it provides. Nearly one-thousand years ago, the Basque people were among the first to hunt whales commercially, bringing valuable blubber and oil to the various markets of Europe. It is this tradition that has led to a contentious and novel hypothesis. Did the Basque people contact and settle North America long before Columbus ever sailed the Atlantic Ocean?
From September 23 – 28, Cape Breton University and Unama’ki College will welcome more than 70 international delegates, including 26 speakers who are world-class experts in their fields, for Atlantiar Knekk Tepaw: an international symposium exploring the ancient connections between the Mi’kmaq communities of the north eastern coast of North America and the Basque people of Europe. This will be the first symposium of its kind in North America, connecting two of the last North Atlantic Indigenous cultures, linked by ocean waters, to share their knowledge and traditions on Mi’kmaq homeland.
Stephen Augustine, Hereditary Chief on the Mi’kmaq Grand Council and Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Affairs and Unama’ki College at Cape Breton University will welcome the international delegation consisting of Basque peoples, linguists, archeologists, anthropologists and historians representing academic institutions and organizations from Oxford University to the Smithsonian Institute.
The symposium will begin with four days of experiential cultural exchange, exploring historic tours and community context in key locales in Unama’ki/Cape Breton and conclude with a two-day academic conference at Cape Breton University, which is open to the public. The international delegates and experts will visit Cape Breton landmarks of cultural relevance including the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Fortress of Louisbourg, Glace Bay Miner’s Museum and the Mi’kmaq communities of Wagmatcook and Eskasoni.
Starting on September 27 and continuing through the 28, the Boardmore Theatre at CBU will host internationally renowned speakers to share their work and expertise in diverse fields to explore the connections between these two distant cultures, both separated and connected by the vast ocean of the Northern Atlantic. It is this very concept where the symposium draws its name, the Atlantiar Knekk Tepaw: An Ocean Apart; Far yet Near, reflecting the distance of the Atlantic ocean spanning from the Basque original home – Euskalherria to Mi’kma’ki. Rekindling ancient friendships, oceans apart; far yet near.
To register for the conference (including banquet dinners), view the full list of conference speakers and conference program, or for further details or questions, visit www.cbu.ca/atlantiar.