Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pictou Landing - Mi'kmaq Presence

Not far from caribou there exists a Mi'kmaq reserve where descendants of the aboriginal population that once lived on these lands have a space assigned to them to live. This is a hugely politically charged topic, so I am choosing instead to recognize the Mi'kmaq incredible support and presence in the Acadian cultural formation.

Says Clive Doucet on the subject:
"The new Acadie had echoes of the old, especially in the language of seventeenth-century France and the curious mixture of local democracy, co-operative projects, and individual entrepreneurship and the love of place and community which would all continue to characterize the new Acadie. But the Deportation destroyed three of the original pillars of old Acadie - the elder generation, the marsh farms, and the long friendship with the Mi'kmaq people. The friendship with the Mi'kmaq had been essential to the independent character of old Acadie and was central to the Acadian ability to resist the political persuasions of France and Britain. Taking the oath to bear arms for the British Crown would have thrown the Acadians into war with the Mi'kmaq, who were bitterly opposed to the English. Again and again Acadian deputies used this argument as one of their excuses to refuse the English requests to bear arms.
After the exile, this long friendship disintegrated. Partly because disease and war reduced the aboriginal population from about 30,000 to a few thousand. As with the Acadians, the trauma of the long war and the annihilation of their people would plunge them into the grim business of daily survival. The loss of elders for an illiterate society is always a body blow. In a culture where governance, religion, history, traditions, songs, and stories are held only in the people's memories, the elders are the conductors, linking the past, the present, and the future. Without them, the society's spinal cord is ruptured.
The young Acadians who returned not only came to a different place, one which would require new ways of earning a living, but they also came without their elders to recall the past... More than two centuries later, Acadians are beginning to be aware again of the long shared history between the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq. We are beginning to remember we have Mi'kmaq ancestors in our family trees. We are beginning to remember the acts of kindness the Mi'kmaq people showed us during the Deportation, evident because Mi'kmaq names often appear as godparents to Acadian children; and that there was a sharing of skills, trade goods, and homes from the earliest days of the Acadian colony. But in the long aftershock of the exile all of this was forgotten, and later, Acadians adopted the attitudes of the dominant society. The Mi'kmaq people were apart. They were the Indians. The Acadians were note connected to them." (quoted from: Notes from Exile, p.84-85)

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