The Mi’kmaq Indians are members of the Wabanaki Confederacy that controlled northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
The Micmacs are originally natives of the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick regions. They also settled in locations in Quebec, Newfoundland, and Maine.
Most Mi’kmaq First Nations use one of the three spellings Mi’kmaq, Micmac, or Míkmaq. Any of those three spellings is acceptable.
Sometimes, especially in history books, you will see the word spelled another way: Miikmaq, Mikmaq, Mi’gmaq, Migmaq, Miigmaq, or Migmac. These are less accepted spellings but they all refer to the same tribe.
Mi’kmaq is the plural form and Mi’kmaw is the singular form.
According to Rand they divided their country, which they called Megumage, into 7 districts, the head-chief living in the Cape Breton district. The other six were Pictou, Memramcook, Restigouche, Eskegawaage, Shubenacadie, and Annapolis.
The first three of these formed a group known as Sigunikt; the other three formed another group known as Kespoogwit.
In 1760 the Micmac bands or villages were given as Le Have, Miramichi Tabogimkik, Pohomoosh, Gediak (Shediac), Pictou, Kashpugowitk (Kespoogwit), Chignecto, Isle of St Johns, Nalkitgoniash, Cape Breton, Minas, Chigabennakadik (Shubenacadie), Keshpugowitk (Kespoogwit, duplicated), and Rishebouctou (Richibucto).
The Gaspesians are a band of Micmac differing somewhat in dialect front the rest of the tribe.
The Micmacs have a system of communicating while in the woods. Sticks are placed in the ground; a cut on one of them indicates that a message in picture-writing on a piece of birch bark is hidden near by under a stone.
The direction in which the stick leans from its base upward indicates that in which the party moved, and thus serves as a convenient hint to those who follow to keep off their hunting grounds.
A game much in use within the wigwams of the Micmacs in former times is that called by some writers altestakun or wŏltĕs takûn. By good native authority it is said that the proper name for it is wŏltĕstōmkwŏn. It is a kind of dice game of unknown antiquity, undoubtedly of pre-Columbian origin.
It is played upon a circular wooden dish, properly rock maple, almost exactly a foot in diameter, hollowed to a depth of about three-fourths of an inch at its center. This dish plays an important role in the older legends of the Micmacs.
Another Micmac game is tooādijik or football. The goals were of two sticks placed slantingly across each other like the poles of the traditional wigwam.
About a score of players, divided into two parties, faced each other at equal distances from the center of the field. The ball was then rolled in by the umpire, and the object of the game was to kick it between the goal posts.
In more recent times a player may catch his opponent by the neck and thus hold him back until he can obtain the ball himself, but scalping was anciently employed as a means of disposing of an opponent.
The choogichoo yajik, or serpent dance, was practiced in early times, but after the introduction of missionaries appeared to be suppressed.
The Mikmaq lived in small villages of conical wigwams, which are houses made of a wood frame covered with birchbark. One Micmac family lived in each wigwam.
Biard says that “in summer the shape of their houses is changed; for they are broad and long that they may have more air.”
Micmac men were hunters and fishermen, and they sometimes went to war to protect their families. Micmac women took care of the children, built their family’s house, and gathered plants to eat and herbs to use for medicine.
Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and religious festivals.
Mi’kmaq women wore hide tunics and long skirts. Mi’kmaq men wore breechcloths with leggings. Men didn’t have to wear shirts in the Micmac culture, but when it was cold out, they wore warm robes.
Mi’kmaq people also wore moccasins on their feet.
Later, the Micmacs adapted European costume such as blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork.
Originally, they didn’t wear long feather headdresses, but both men and women wore beaded headbands with feathers sticking up from them.
In the 1800’s, some Micmac chiefs began wearing an impressive Native headdress like the Sioux.
Women often wore a distinctive peaked (pointed) hat.
Both men and women wore their hair long and loose when they first made contact with Europeans, but in the 1800s it became popular for Micmac women to braid their hair.
The Micmacs didn’t usually paint their faces, but sometimes men painted them red if they were going into battle.
Polygamy was not common, though practiced to some extent by the chiefs.
The Mi’kmaq Indian tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. The upward curve in the middle of the canoe is distinctive.
Hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, bone spears, and heavy wooden clubs. Mi’kmaq fishermen used pronged fishing spears, hooks, and nets.
They were semi-nomadic, moving around a lot as they followed their food sources.
The Mikmaqs were good at fishing and hunting large game like caribou and moose. Micmac men also went to sea to harpoon seals, walrus, and whales. Other foods in their diet included berries, squash, and maple syrup made from tree sap.
Micmac artists are famous for their porcupine quillwork. Some colonists even called them the Porcupine Indians because they were so skilled at this art.
The Micmacs also did beadwork and basketweaving.
Like other eastern American Indians, Mi’kmaq also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material.
The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person’s family.
The Santé Mawiómi, or Grand Council, was the traditional senior level of government for the Mi’kmaq people until Canada passed the Indian Act (1876) to require First Nations to establish representative elected governments.
After implementation of the Indian Act, the Grand Council took on a more spiritual function. The Grand Council was made up of chiefs of the seven district councils of Mi’kma’ki.
The Mi’kmaq people had three levels of oral traditions: religious myths, legends, and folklore. Myths are used to tell the stories of the earliest possible time, which includes their creation stories. Other myths account for the organization of the world and society; for instance, how men and women were created and why they are different from one another.
These myths were powerful symbolically and as the expression of how things came to be and should be.
Legends are oral traditions related to particular places. Legends can involve the recent or distant past, but are most important in linking people and specific places in the land.
The people also tell folktales, which involve all the people. They are understood to be fictional. These traditional tales also give moral or social lessons to youth, and are told for amusement about the way people are.
The Micmac were great traders, carrying goods between northern tribes like the Innu and Cree and New England tribes like the Abenaki and Pennacook. They were also fierce warriors, fighting with the powerful Iroquois and the Beothuk of Newfoundland.
But their most important neighbors were the Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot. These five tribes formed an alliance called the Wabanaki Confederacy.
Before this alliance, the Micmacs were not always friends with these other tribes. Sometimes they even fought wars. But once they joined the Confederacy, the Wabanaki tribes never fought each other again, and are still allies today.
If Schoolcraft’s supposition be correct, the Micmac must have been among the first Indians of the north east coast encountered by Europeans, as he thinks they were visited by Sebastian Cabot in 1497, and that the three natives he took to England were of this tribe.
Kohl believes that those captured by Cortereal in 1501 and taken to Europe were Micmac.
Most of the early voyagers to this region speak of the great numbers of Indians on the north coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and of their fierce and warlike character.
They early became friends of the French, a friendship which was lasting and which the English, after the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, by which Acadia was ceded to them, found impossible to have transferred to themselves for nearly half a century.
Their hostility to the English prevented for a long time any serious attempts at establishing British settlements on the north coasts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, for although a treaty of peace was concluded with them in 1760, it was not until 1779 that disputes and difficulties with the Micmac tribe ceased.
In the early wars on the New England frontier the Cape Sable Micmac were especially noted.
In the wake of King Phillips War between English colonists and Native Americans in southern New England (which included the first military conflict between the Mi’kmaq and New England), the Mi’kmaq became members of the Wapnáki (Wabanaki Confederacy), an alliance with four other Algonquian-language nations: the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet.
The Wabanaki Confederacy were allied with French colonists in Acadia. Over a period of seventy-five years, during six wars in Mi’kma’ki (Acadia and Nova Scotia), the Mi’kmaq fought to keep the British from taking over the region.
France lost military control of Acadia in 1710, and political claim (apart from Cape Breton) by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht with England.
But, the Mí’kmaq were not included in the treaty and never conceded any land to the British.
In 1715, the Mikmaq were told that the British now claimed their ancient territory by the Treaty of Utrecht, which the Mi’kmaq were no party to.
They formally complained to the French commander at Louisbourg about the French king transferring the sovereignty of their nation when he did not possess it.
They were only then informed that the French had claimed legal possession of their country for a century, on account of laws decreed by kings in Europe, that no land could be legally owned by any non-Christian, and that such land was therefore freely available to any Christian prince who claimed it.
Along with Acadians, the Mi’kmaq used military force to resist the founding of British settlements by making numerous raids on Halifax, Dartmouth, Lawrencetown and Lunenburg.
During the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain in Europe, the Mi’kmaq assisted the Acadians in resisting the British during the Expulsion.
The military resistance was reduced significantly with the French defeat at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758 at Cape Breton.
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, the famous American Indian activist, was a Mi’kmaw from Nova Scotia. She worked for Native American rights and was an important figure in the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1975 she was assassinated. Her murder wasn’t solved and an arrest made in the death of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash until 2003.
Mi’kmaq Tribes and First Nations Today:
Abegweit First Nation, Prince Edward Island (PE) (Canada)
Acadia, Nova Scotia (NS) (Canada)
Annapolis Valley (NS) (Canada)Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians of Maine (United States)
Bear River First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Buctouche First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Burnt Church First Nation, New Brunswick (NB) (Canada)
Chapel Island First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Eel Ground First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Eel River Bar First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Elsipogtog First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Eskasoni First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Fort Folly First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Glooscap First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Indian Brook First Nation (Canada)
Indian Island First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Lennox Island First Nation (PE) (Canada)
Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, Quebec (QC) (Canada)
Membertou First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation (NB) (Canada)
Miawpukek First Nation, Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) (Canada)
Micmacs of Gesgapegiag (QC) (Canada)
Millbrook First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Nation Micmac de Gespeg (QC) (Canada)
Pabineau First Nation (NB) (Canada)
Paq’tnkek First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Pictou Landing First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Wagmatcook First Nation (NS) (Canada)
Waycobah First Nation (NS) (Canada)