Track 2: The Mi’kmaq First Nation

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 Mary Louise Bernard at her tipi campground, Buckskin Tales, in Middle River

Adapted and abridged from the Cabot Trail Companion.

The island of Cape Breton is famous for its Scottish and French settlers — and we'll be discovering their rich heritage later on the Cabot Trail Companion. But of course, there was already a vibrant and fascinating culture here before the Europeans arrived: that of the aboriginal Mi'kmaq — also known as the 'People of the Dawn' — because they were the first to see the sunrise.

Mary Louise Bernard is a community leader and former chief of Wagmatcook, a First Nations reserve close to the start of the Cabot Trail. She also runs native-themed guided tours, and the Buckskin Tales tipi campground, a few kilometres up the Cabot Trail in Middle River.

On the Cabot Trail Companion Mary Louise introduces us to the type of fascinating stories she tells her visitors. She has even launched her own line of gifts named Indian Maiden, after a Mi'kmaq legend that tells how maple syrup was invented by an ancient Indian princess. Many native tales remind us that we are a part of the natural environment, and are responsible for taking care of it.

Traditionally hunters and fishermen, the Mi'kmaq have a rich and descriptive language closely tied to nature and the cycle of the seasons: for example, February is called "the month of blinding snow", and August "the month of ripening fruit". Before the Europeans claimed their land and changed the way they lived, nature provided the Mi'kmaq with everything they needed to make and furnish their wigwam homes. They wove baskets, bags, snowshoes, and fish traps. And, of course, they built their famous canoes with birchbark stretched over a wooden frame.

Canoes ranged up to 8 metres or 26 feet in length, and enabled the Mi'kmaq to catch a wide variety of seafood, including lobster, salmon, squid and seal. On land, their diet was equally varied, with caribou, moose and beaver, and lots of fruits and berries on the menu. The Mi'kmaq way of life was a perfect example of man living in harmony with his natural surroundings, and some of the tales that the elders used to teach respect for the environment are delightful.

But Mary Louise has other stories that are more sombre in tone, and tell of far-reaching events in Mi'kmaq history: she remembers a time when Mi'kmaq culture was in real danger of being wiped out forever.

The First Nations are now working hard to preserve their heritage, and native children are taught their traditional language from an early age. There's even a thriving department of Mi'kmaq studies at Cape Breton University in Sydney. Mi'kmaq culture is stronger now than it has been for generations, and with tireless workers like Mary Louise on the case, its future's looking bright.


Links

If you'd like more information on this section of the tour, the following links may be of interest. Because we have no control over external sites, if you find a dead link please let us know!

How the Mi'kmaq lived in times past
http://museum.gov.ns.ca/arch/infos/mikmaq1.htm

The semi-nomadic lifestyle
www.muiniskw.org/pgCulture1a.htm

An introduction to the Mi'kmaq language
www.omniglot.com/writing/mikmaq.htm

Mi'kmaq timeline
http://www.muiniskw.org/pgHistory1.htm
http://www.muiniskw.org/pgHistory2.htm

Website of Daniel N. Paul, author of We Were Not the Savages, a history of how the First Nations' culture was devastated by European intervention
www.danielnpaul.com



Accommodations & other businesses along the way

* = Featured on the Cabot Trail Companion

*Buckskin Tales Tipi Camping & Native Trail Tours Accommodation ($)
2324 Cabot Trail, Middle River. T: (902) 295-1367;
marylb40@hotmail.com

Cabot Trail Motorcycle Retreat Accommodation ($)
T: (902) 295-1087
www.ctmcretreat.com

Castle Moffett Accommodation ($$$)
11980 Hwy 105, Bucklaw. TF: 1-888-756-9070;
www.castlemoffett.com

Middle River C@P Site
2248 Cabot Trail,Middle River. T: (902) 295-2951;
www.middleriver.ca

The Red Barn (gifts, restaurant & Cabot Trail landmark)
Exit 7, Hwy 105, Nyanza. T: (902) 295-3036;
redbarn@ns.sympatico.ca

Taigh na H’Aibhne B&B Accommodation ($)
11399 Hwy 105 Bucklaw. T: (902) 756-2380;
ab.robinson@ns.sympatico.ca

Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Centre
10765 Hwy 105, Wagmatcook. TF: 1-866-295-2999;
www.wagmatcook.com

Quality Hardwood Flooring from Middle River
www.finewoodflooring.ca

If you would like your business to be added to this list, please contact us...