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Mi'kmaq Header

According to Mi’kmaq mythology, the Great Spirit shaped a piece of clay, as red as the skin of the Mi’kmaq people, into a crescent and lay this “Minagoo” in the singing waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was the most beautiful place of all on Mother Earth and, for a time, the Mi’kmaq had it all to themselvesMi'kmaq Flag.

The easternmost tribe of the Algonquin family, the Mi’kmaq, most often came to the Island, which they called Abegweit, during the summer season to camp and fish. Early French writers such as Champlain and Lescarbot referred to the Aboriginals they encountered as “Souriquois.” In 1693, they were given the name “Mi’kmaq” or allies, but they referred to themselves as “Epegoitnag.”

The Mi’kmaq suffered great hardships as a result of European colonization of the Island. The government took their lands, ruined their hunting grounds, burned the forests, depleted wild game on which the people depended for their livelihood, and segregated the Mi’kmaq from the rest of the population by forcing them onto reservations (Lennox Island, Scotchfort, Rocky Point, and Morell). And, for most of the twentieth century, the federal government pursued an active policy of assimilation of the country’s Aboriginal peoples.

But the Mi’kmaq proved themselves to be a resilient people, allying themselves with the French during the wars between Britain and France, fighting in two world wars, and struggling to preserve their culture and traditions. Their efforts were not in vain. Today, the Prince Edward Island Mi’kmaq community is host to an important annual event for Aboriginal peoples throughout Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States. During the third weekend in August, a three-day powwow is held at the Panmure Island cultural grounds. This event is filled with storytelling, song, dance, and drumming.

Medicine WheelTwo vital elements of the powwow are the sweat lodge and the sacred fire. The sweat lodge is an activity of great spiritual significance in Mi’kmaq society. It is a time for healing and cleansing, providing a sacred occasion to spend time with the Creator. The sacred fire is lit at the opening of the powwow and burns continuously until the end of the three days. Participants approach the fire throughout the weekend to present themselves and give honour to the Creator through prayer. The sacred fire is never left unattended; there is always a participant in prayer.

In the course of their prayer, participants give recognition to the water and to all plant and animal life. At the sacred fire, they pray to the four cardinal directions, giving honour to the times of human life. The East, from where the sun rises, signifies the beginning of life, and spring. The South represents the summer and a time of youth and learning. Prayers giving respect to the West honour maturing and participation in the advancement of the people. The North is honoured as participants celebrate the time to prepare for death and renewal. The four colours of humanity—black, white, red, yellow—are given equal value in these rites as are the four elements—fire, water, air, and earth.

The Mi’kmaq people also express their faith through the Roman Catholic Church. On
June 24, 1610, Grand Chief Membertu and twenty of his braves were baptized in Port Royal. Today, this monumental event is celebrated and renewed on the day of the patron Saint of the Mi’kmaq, St. Anne’s Sunday, which is marked by pageants, games, music, and dance.

Mi’kmaq arts and culture are still practised by diverse individuals and groups in Prince Edward Island and in Atlantic Canada. Red Stone and Lonewolf, for example, are two Island Mi’kmaq drumming and chanting groups that have achieved a wide audience across the province.

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