Acadia First Nation is located in the Southwestern region of Nova Scotia. This First Nation has five Reserves, plus separate land holdings in Gardner’s Mill, Hammonds Plains, and Shelburne.
Tribal Name: Acadia First Nation
Band No. 18
Alternate Names: Micmac, Mi’kmaq, Mi’gmaq. The ethnonym has traditionally been spelled Micmac in English, but the people themselves have used different spellings: Mi’kmaq (singular Mi’kmaw) in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Miigmaq (Miigmao) in New Brunswick, Mi’gmaq by the Listuguj Council in Quebec, and Mìgmaq (Mìgmaw) in some native literature. Until the 1980s, “Micmac” remained the most common spelling in English, but it has fallen out of favor in recent years.
Acadia First Nation is governed as a custom band under the provisions of the Indian Act with established bylaws, policies and procedures. The First Nation’s electoral system holds a Council of Acadia Band election once every five years with positions for one Chief and eight councillors. First Nation members 18 and older, residing both on and off Reserve, are considered eligible voters.
Reserve No. 21
Name: Gold River Reserve
Location: Southern Nova Scotia,approximately 61 kilometres from Halifax.
Size: Approximately 270 hectares (668 acres).
Established: May 8, 1820
Communities: Gold River is positioned near the mouth of the west side of the Gold River. The Mi’kmaq people have a long history in the area of using the resources within Gold River and the area surrounding Mahone Bay. In addition to the river itself, the area is known as a location with traditional camp sites and there are various areas that have cultural and spiritual importance.
Reserve No. 11
Name: Medway Reserve
Location: Located on the Medway River in Queens County, NS, approximately 108.8 km southwest of Halifax and 40 km south of Bridgewater.
Size: 4.7 hectares (12 acres).
Established: The Medway Reserve was established in 1865 and is the smallest of the Acadia First Nation’s five (5) reserves.
Reserve No. 10
Name: Ponhook Reserve
Location: Next to Lake Rossignol, approximately 40 km northwest of Milton, in Queens County, and is 115.2 km southwest of Halifax.
Size: 101.8 hectares (252 acres).
Established: Established in 1843.
Communities: Although quite isolated, the Ponhook Reserve offers ideal seasonal opportunities such as swimming, canoeing, camping and hunting. The population of the Reserve varies according to the season, with some Band members vacationing in the summer and/or using it to hunt in the winter.
Reserve No. 12
Name: Wildcat Reserve
Location: Next to the Wildcat River, approximately 138 km southwest of Halifax.
Size: 465.4 hectares (1,150 acres).
Established: Established in 1820.
Communities: Wildcat – Traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping and canoeing are still practiced on this Reserve. Wildcat is the largest of the 5 reserves.
Reserve No. 33
Name: Yarmouth Reserve
Location: Located in Yarmouth County, it is the most populated reserve and maintains the largest Band membership on Reserve. It is considered the central hub of Acadia First Nation, with the main administration office located there.
Size: 27.7 hectares (68 acres)
Established: June 8, 1887.
Gardner’s Mill – 2,827 acres of land in South West Nova Scotia, approximately 25 km from the Town of Yarmouth. The property was donated to the Acadia First Nation by the late John Cook, a former resident of Gardner’s Mill. Since 1998, the Acadia First Nation has been going through the mechanisms necessary to adopt the property as reserve lands. The land is rural and largely undeveloped. The most pertinent existing land use within the property is the AFN Sawmill, a small lumber mill that produces fire wood and ungraded lumber. The land is used for recreational purposes as well such as hiking, swimming and fishing.
Hammonds Plains – This is a new purchased parcel of land currently undergoing the Addition to Reserve Status (ATR process) and houses a small office which serves off-Reserve Band members living in the Halifax Regional Municipality. The purpose of purchasing this land was for future economic development opportunity for the Band.
Shelburne – Located at Enterprise Square, 157 Water Street, Shelburne, NS B0T1W0, this property has a new sub-office. This office will be in operation on a part-time basis serving off reserve members in the Lockport, Shelburne, Barrington and surrounding areas.
Population: As of 2015, the Mi’kmaq population is 223 on-Reserve, and 1,288 off-Reserve. A large portion (90%) of Band members live off-reserve, with large numbers in Shelburne County and the Halifax Regional Municipality.
According to ethnologist T. J. Brasser, with a climate unfavorable for agriculture, small semi-nomadic bands of a few patrilineally related families subsisted on fishing and hunting. Their weakly developed leadership did not extend beyond hunting parties.
The Mi’kmaq lived in an annual cycle of seasonal movement between living in dispersed interior winter camps and larger coastal communities during the summer.
The spawning runs of March began the convergence on smelt spawning streams. This was followed by harvesting spawning herring, gathering waterfowl eggs, and hunting geese.
By May, the seashore offered abundant cod and shellfish, and coastal breezes brought relief from the biting black flies, stouts, midges and mosquitoes of the interior.
Autumn frost killed the biting insects during the September harvest of spawning American eels, allowing dispersal back into the interior in smaller groups to hunt moose and caribou.
The most important animal hunted by the Mi’kmaq was the moose, which was used in every part: for example, the meat was processed for food, the skin for clothing, tendons and sinew for cordage, bones for carving and tools.
Other animals hunted/trapped included deer, caribou, bear, rabbit, beaver, porcupine and small animals. Bear teeth and claws were used in regalia. Porcupine quills were used in decorative beadwork done by women.
The weapon used most for hunting was the bow and arrow. The Mi’kmaq made their bows from maple.
The Mi’kmaq people would store lobsters in the ground for later consumption.
The Mi’kmaq ate fish of all kinds, such as salmon, sturgeon, lobster, squid, shellfish, and eels, as well as seabirds and their eggs.
They hunted marine mammals: porpoises, whales, walrus, and seals.
The Mi’kmaq usually hunted moose in groups of 3 to 5 men. Before the moose hunt, the Mi’kmaq would starve their dogs for two days to make them fierce in helping to finish off the moose.
To kill the moose, they would injure it first, by using a bow and arrow or other weapons. After it was down, they would move in to finish it off with spears and their dogs. The guts would be fed to the dogs.
During this whole process, the men would try to direct the moose in the direction of the camp, so that the women would not have to go as far to drag the moose back.
A boy became a man in the eyes of the community after he had killed his first moose. It was only then that he earned the right to marry.
There were also Elders, the Putús (Wampum belt readers and historians, who also dealt with the treaties with the non-natives and other Native tribes), the women’s council, and the Grand Chief.
The Grand Chief was a title given to one of the district chiefs, who was usually from the Mi’kmaq district of Unamáki or Cape Breton Island. This title was hereditary and usually passed on to the Grand Chief’s eldest son.
The Grand Council met on a little island on the Bras d’Or lake in Cape Breton called Mniku. Today the site is within the reserve called Chapel Island or Potlotek.
To this day, the Grand Council still meets at Mniku to discuss current issues within the Mi’kmaq Nation. Taqamkuk was defined as part of Unama’kik historically and became a separate district at an unknown point in time.
Mi’kmaq people lived in structures called wigwams. They cut down saplings, which were usually spruce, and curved them over a circle drawn on the ground. These saplings were lashed together at the top, and then covered with birch bark.
The Mi’kmaq had two different sizes of wigwams. The smaller size could hold 10-15 people and the larger size 15-20 people. Wigwams could be either conical or domed in shape.
On June 24, 1610, Grand Chief Membertou converted to Catholicism and was baptised. He concluded an alliance with the French Jesuits which affirmed the right of Mi’kmaq to choose Catholicism and\or Mi’kmaq tradition.
The Mi’kmaq practice of playing hockey appeared in recorded colonial histories from as early as the 18th century. Since the nineteenth century, the Mi’kmaq were credited with inventing the ice hockey stick.
They call their national territory Mi’kma’ki (or Mi’gma’gi). The Santé Mawiómi, or Grand Council, was the traditional senior level of government for the Mi’kmaq people until Canada passed the Indian Act (1876) to require First Nations to establish representative elected governments.
After implementation of the Indian Act, the Grand Council took on a more spiritual function.
The Grand Council was made up of chiefs of the seven district councils of Mi’kma’ki.
Acadia became a united Band and obtained official status in 1967. Much of the history of the people of the Acadia is centered in today’s Queen’s County, Nova Scotia.
Artifacts found along the Mersey River document the rich history of the Mi’kmaq people in this area.
The Mi’kmaq territory was the first portion of North America to be heavily used for European resource extraction.
Reports by John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, and Portuguese explorers encouraged visits by Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, French, and English fishermen and whalers beginning in the early years of the 16th century.
Early European fishermen salted their catch at sea and sailed directly home; but they set up camps ashore for dry-curing cod as early as 1520; this became the preferred preservation method during the second half of the century.
These camps traded with Mi’kmaq fishermen; and trading rapidly expanded to include furs. By 1578 there were 350 European ships operating around the Saint Lawrence estuary.
Most were independent fishermen, but increasing numbers were exploring the fur trade.
Trading furs for European trade goods changed Mi’kmaq social perspectives. Desire for trade goods encouraged the men devoting a larger portion of the year away from the coast trapping in the interior.
Trapping non-migratory animals, such as beaver, increased awareness of territoriality.
Trader preferences for good harbors resulted in greater numbers of Mi’kmaq gathering in fewer summer rendezvous locations. This in turn encouraged their establishing larger bands led by the ablest trade negotiators.
The Mi’kmaq territory was divided into seven traditional districts in Nova Scotia, plus Taqamkuk in Newfoundland.
Each district had its own independent government and boundaries. The independent governments had a district chief and a council. The council members were band chiefs, elders, and other worthy community leaders. The district council was charged with performing all the duties of any independent and free government by enacting laws, justice, apportioning fishing and hunting grounds, making war and suing for peace.
The Eight Mi’kmaq districts (including Taqamkuk which is often not counted) are:
- Epekwitk aq Piktuk (Epegwitg aq Pigtug)
- Eskikewa’kik (Esge’gewa’gi)
- Kespek (Gespe’gewa’gi)
- Kespukwitk (Gespugwitg)
- Siknikt (Signigtewa’gi)
- Sipekni’katik (Sugapune’gati)
- Taqamkuk (Gtaqamg)
- Unama’kik (Unama’gi)
Note : The orthography between parentheses is the one used in the Gespe’gewa’gi area.
In the wake of King Phillips War between English colonists and Native Americans in southern New England (which included the first military conflict between the Mi’kmaq and New England), the Mi’kmaq became members of the Wapnáki (Wabanaki Confederacy), an alliance with four other Algonquian-language nations: the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet.
The Wabanaki Confederacy were allied with French colonists in Acadia. Over a period of seventy-five years, during six wars in Mi’kma’ki (Acadia and Nova Scotia), the Mi’kmaq fought to keep the British from taking over the region.
France lost military control of Acadia in 1710, and political claim (apart from Cape Breton) by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht with England. But, the Mí’kmaq were not included in the treaty and never conceded any land to the British.
In 1715, the Mi’kmaq were told that the British now claimed their ancient territory by the Treaty of Utrecht, which the Mi’kmaq were no party to. They formally complained to the French commander at Louisbourg about the French king transferring the sovereignty of their nation when he did not possess it.
They were only then informed that the French had claimed legal possession of their country for a century, on account of laws decreed by kings in Europe, that no land could be legally owned by any non-Christian, and that such land was therefore freely available to any Christian prince who claimed it.
Along with Acadians, the Mi’kmaq used military force to resist the founding of British (Protestant) settlements by making numerous raids on Halifax, Dartmouth, Lawrencetown and Lunenburg.
During the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain in Europe, the Mi’kmaq assisted the Acadians in resisting the British during the Expulsion.
The military resistance was reduced significantly with the French defeat at the Siege of Louisbourg (1758) in Cape Breton.
The Nova Scotia government and the Mi’kmaq community have made the Mi’kmaq Kina’ matnewey, which is the most successful First Nation Education Program in Canada. In 1982, the first Mi’kmaq operated school opened in Nova Scotia.
By 1997, all education for Mi’kmaq on reserves were given the responsibility for their own education. There are now 11 band run schools in Nova Scotia.
Now Nova Scotia has the highest rate of retention of aboriginal students in schools in the country. More than half the teachers are Mi’kmaq.
From 2011 to 2012 there was a 25% increase of Mi’kmaq students going to university. Atlantic Canada has the highest rate of aboriginal students attending university in the country.
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