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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 9, 2020
John Joe Sark
As a Mi’kmaq Keptin, elected for life to represent the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, my responsibility is the protection of our culture and spirituality. I have on many occasions throughout the years, in the name and spirit of this responsibility, been compelled to resist the spreading of misinformation and the misrepresentation of Mik’maq culture and symbols, especially if it negatively impacts Mi’kmaq rights or presents our people in a false manner.
In this context, it is necessary for me to disagree with certain misrepresentations by author Georges Arsenault in his book The Illustrated History of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island.
These errors relate to how Acadians and Mi’kmaq people interacted, minimize the Indigenous population in the 1700s and even perpetuate a misunderstanding how the Mi’kmaq of this Island of Epekwitk sustained themselves on our own lands.
Mr. Arsenault’s comments on the history of Acadian/Mi’kmaq intermarriage is contradictory to known historical fact. Where he first refers to French men marrying Mi’kmaw women, he concludes the subject with the statement:
"The surviving parish registers for the period 1720-1758 do not contain any records of marriage between a Mi’kmaq and an Acadian. Thus, despite the friendship between the two groups, cultural differences do not appear to have favoured intermarriages. This has been confirmed by genealogical research."
Mr. Arsenault did not reference parish or government records of marriages between Acadians and Mi’kmaw within the whole of the Mi’kmaq territory, prior to established Acadian populations on Epekwitk, then called Isle Ste. Jean. It is more likely accurate to note that intermarriages between these two peoples ceased or simply were not recorded after the British military proclaimed intermarriage — and indeed any form of socialization — between Acadians with Mi’kmaq people illegal. This was done as a means of further controlling and diminishing both
Mi’kmaq and Acadian people, who had become in many instances, each others’ allies, friends and family members.
The intent of the British prohibition is even described by Mr. Daniel N. Paul in his book, We were not the Savages, where he writes:
"By 1713, the year France transferred its self-endowed ownership of Acadia to the English via the Treaty of Utrecht, the Mi’kmaq/Acadian relationship was so close that it caused the British to become paranoid about it. In fact, their paranoia was so bad that they tried to end it in 1722 by issuing a proclamation forbidding any social exchanges between the two Peoples. Dated August 1, 1722, by Richard Philipp, Governor of Acadia. Under its provisions it became illegal for Acadians to entertain a Mi’kmaq in any manner. How strictly it was enforced is reflected in the minutes of a Council meeting held on May 22, 1725:
"The Honourable Lt. Governor, John Doucett, acquainted the board that Prudane Robichau, senior inhabitant in the Cape, had entertained an Indian in his house, contrary to His Excellency’s proclamation, dated August 1, 1722. That he had therefore put him in irons and in prison amongst the Indians for such heinous misdemeanour. To date, I’ve found no evidence that the 1722 proclamation was rescinded."
Georges Arsenault also states that during the French regime, the Mi’kmaw population on the Island of Epekwitk was comprised of about 200 individuals. This is not based on anything like a modern census. He should have been aware of the fact that most of the men that could fight were out protecting the French and the Acadians. That figure does not show the number of Mi’kmaq warriors that were away from their usual homes in the rest of Mi’kma’ki territory, fighting alongside the French and Acadians against the invading British military.
On page 41 of his book The History of Prince Edward Island, AB Warbutan states: "On September 11,1749, I have intelligence from all parts of the province and from Cape Breton, that the Indians of Acadia and St. John’s Island, design to molest us this winter.
"British General Cornwallis also commented on the presence of Epekwitk’s Mi’kmaq warriors who had come to the aid of the French/Acadians when he stated that the 'fierce Mi’kmaq Warriors' came from Isle Saint Jean."
In addition to incorrectly describing community relations and the population, Mr. Arsenault also says in his book: "As a nomadic people, they (Mi’kmaw) lived from hunting and fishing and usually spent the winter on the mainland in order to hunt moose, an important part of their diet."
This again is based on error. The Mi’kmaq of Epekwitk did not have to go across the strait to hunt moose, as their diet was dominantly fish and waterfowl. Scientific tests conducted by Dr. Allison Harris in August 2019 at Memorial University in Newfoundland on Mi’kmaq remains discovered at Blooming Point, P.E.I., showed how the Mi’kmaq diet on PEI was different from the diet in other areas of Mi’kma’ki.
As well, a quote by a Mi’kmaq elder, translated and recorded for history, taken from In New Relation of Gaspesia, by Chrestien LeClercq, illustrates the Mi’kmaw contentment with staying within their own territories, where everything they needed or wanted could be obtained:
"As to us, we find all our riches and all our conveniences among ourselves, without trouble and without exposing our lives to the dangers in which you find yourselves constantly through your long voyages. And, while feeling compassion for you in the sweetness of our repose, we wonder at the anxieties and cares which you give yourselves night and day in order to load your ship. We see also that all your people live, as a rule, only upon cod, which you catch among us. It is everlastingly nothing but cod -- cod in the morning, cod at midday, cod at evening, and always cod, until things come to such a pass that if you wish some good morsels, it is at our expense; and you are obliged to have recourse to the Indians, whom you despise so much, and to beg them to go a-hunting that you may be regaled."
Mr. Arsenault himself confirms the self-sufficiency of Mi’kmaq of Epekwitk in his book where he says: "The French authorities tried unsuccessfully to make the Mi’kmaq settle in one location and to introduce them to farming, encouraging them in particular to establish themselves permanently along the shore of Malpeque."
Of course they had no success! Did they intend to change the Mi’kmaq culture to an agricultural society, to restrict Mi’kmaq hunting and gathering activities?
If we are honest, it was the French and Acadians and not the Mi’kmaw who were a nomadic people, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, and then roaming all around Mi’maki, with the purpose of obtaining goods and claiming new territory but never enjoying the success of the Mi’kmaq people of Epekwitk due to their lack of understanding of the resources around them.
Considerable damage may be done by falsely representing the domain, culture and history of the Mi’kmaq people of Epekwitk. It is important that such errors are not left to stand unaddressed and uncorrected.
Keptin Dr. John Joe Sark LLD lives in Johnstons River, P.E.I.