Welcome to October! Before we begin, a couple of very important housekeeping matters to address:
- If you didn’t already know, October in this part of Canada marks Mi’kmaq History Month. The origins of it date back to 1993, when then premier of Nova Scotia, John Savage, and Mi’kmaw Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy declared that the month of October would be set aside to commemorate the culture and heritage of a people who’ve called the Eastern Canadian region home for thousands of years. Mi’kmaq History Month is celebrated here as well, albeit from the province’s perspective, and so I’ve decided to jump on board and align my material accordingly (much as I did in February for Black History Month). As a result, all Wednesday posts this month will revolve around the Island’s Mi’kmaq history.
- October in Canada also marks Women’s History Month. Since its inception in 1992, it has been a time to celebrate trailblazing women in this country’s history. As such, I’ve decided that, in lieu of vintage film this month, Fridays will instead be given over to profiling pioneering women in Island history, of which there have been a goodly number (we’ll take a look at four).
So if you’ve been following along, that’s the whole of October settled. A remarkable show of advance planning you’re not likely to see on here again – that’s also settled. It actually works out quite well, though, as these are both areas that have heretofore not received much in the way limelight on this site. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited.
Away we go!
There is a very marked division in Mi’kmaq history in its broadest sense. On one side you have the long period before the arrival of Europeans to these shores, referred to as “pre-contact”; and then you have everything after that point. Today, I thought we’d take a look at the former. As per common convention, the first European to make contact with Mi’kmaq on the Island was the Breton explorer Jacques Cartier in July 1534, sailing under the French flag on his first of three voyages across the Atlantic – voyages of “discovery” to “new lands”. The Mi’kmaq, of course, had been residing here for a few thousand years prior to his arrival (hence the quotation marks), living a well-established lifestyle that would soon after be forever changed. But that’ll be material for another day.
When it comes to this pre-contact phase in the history of the Mi’kmaq in Prince Edward Island (or Epektwitk), I openly state here that I am by no means an expert (far from it), and I won’t dare play at one. What I can tell you, though, is that theirs was very strongly an oral tradition, and to my knowledge you won’t find anything in the way of written records from them much before the 19th century, and only on occasion do they figure into any. That’s what makes the following article by Earle Lockerby so valuable. Though published way back in 2004 (The Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXIV), I’m ashamed to say that I only came across it for the first time on Monday. It’s an uber-rare look at the lifestyle led by the Mi’kmaq just before contact with Europeans, as related by a shaman to a French priest around 1740. It’s also incredibly informative, although at 15 pages long (21 if you tack on the endnotes) you’ll need to set aside a bit of time to read it. But trust me, it’ll be worth the effort.
Anyway, have a go at that when suits you best, and I’ll see you again on Friday for the inaugural Women’s History Month post!
PEI History Guy
P.S. – Just a quick note on the featured image. It’s a postcard shot of a mock Mi’kmaq village that formerly existed in Rocky Point, owned and operated by Martin Mitchell, the intent of which was to showcase (more or less) the lifestyle led by Mi’kmaq here prior to European contact.