Where The Sand Blows


(Where the Sand Blows...)

Vignettes of Bay St. George Micmacs

Part Three

In saying that a river runs south-west, he probably is taking it the reverse way, counting from the mouth to the source, and really means that it has a north-east course; and he invariably calls all the tributaries of a river by one and the same name: a fact which leads to infinite confusion...

Source: 1881 Earl of Dunraven, "A Glimpse at Newfoundland," in The Nineteenth Century January, pp. 94-95.

4. James John, a Montagnais Indian, met Cormack nearMaelpaeg Lake in the interior of the island. John and his Micmac wife are ancestors of the John families now living in Glenwoodand Conne River. Below is a description of how his skin canoe was made.

[James John's] canoe... was made of wicker-work, covered over outside with deer skins sewed together and stretched on it, nearly of the usual form of canoes, with a bar or beam across the middle, and one on each end to strengthen it. The skin covering, flesh side out, was fastened or laced to the gunwales, with thongs of the same material. Owing to decay and wear it required to be renewed once in from six to twelve weeks. Source: 1824 W. E. Cormack, Narrative of a Journey Across the Island of Newfoundland in 1822. (1824 Edinburgh Philosophical Journal; 1856 St. John's at the office of the Morning Post; 1928 F.A. Bruton (ed.) London: Longmans, Green & Co., centenary edition.). In 1915 J. P. Howley, The Beothucks or Red Indians. Cambridge University Press, p. 148.

5. Below is a description of the making and tanning of moccasins by Millais's Micmac guides. ... First of all the skin is cleaned, then Steve [Bernard, Micmac guide], making his knife as sharp as a razor, shaved off all the hair. The two pairs of boots were then cut into shape, and afterwards sewn tightly with thread made from the sinews of the deer's back. A seamed-over stitch is used, and very tightly cinched... John Hinx was engaged meanwhile in making a deep trough out of a log of 'var' [fir]. In this he placed about an armful of 'var' bark, carefully broken into fine pieces with the fingers. Boiling water was then poured into the trough, and the 'boots' left to soak for twelve hours. After this they were taken out, well-scraped, and put to dry. They are then finished and perfectly soft, strong and watertight.

Source: 1907 J. G. Millais, Newfoundland and its Untrodden Ways. New York: Longmans, Greene & Co., p. 297.

6. Below, Speck describes the traditional clothing of the Micmacs, which was still common well into this century. In the matter of dress, some articles are characteristic of the Newfoundland Indians of today which are common to both Montagnais and Mic-mac, while others are suggestive of Red Indian culture. The caribou-skin capote ((qali bua ' zi [qalipua'si] "caribou covering") with hood attached, and the sealskin coats of the same type, are of course in the former class... I learned from John Paul [of Badger's Brook] of decorations which formerly were more common. Tanned with the hair off, these coats had figures of animals painted on the back, and a band of checkerwork in red and black around the waist. This compares more with what we know of Montagnais decoration, although the same type of coat had a wide distribution throughout the Wabanaki area. Of the pigments, red and brown were from alder bark, yellow from "yellow thread" (golden thread...) and blue and black from blueberries. When the hair was left on these coats they were seldom painted... Children's coats were made from the skin of a caribou calf, with the eye-holes and ears left in place on the head, which fitted over the head of the child to form the hood.. .Trousers of tanned caribou-skin reaching almost to the knee, as an article of clothing correspond also to the early dress of the Montagnais.

The women wore peaked caps (ken i'' skwe tc [kni'skwe'j],"pointed top"), descriptions of which serve to show that they were more like those of the other Micmac, though of course a similar article is worn by nearly every Montagnais woman. The women also wrapped their hair over two small wooden blocks over the ears, also after the fashion of the Montagnais. Neither of these fashions, however, is to be seen nowadays. Source: 1922 Frank Speck, Beothuk and Micmac. New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, pp. 33-35.

7, 8. The following two selections describe the making of two objects essential to the Micmac way a/life, an eel (or fish) spear, and snowshoes. The first one demonstrates the ease with which hunters can make a tool out of almost anything at hand.

An Indian fish-spear is a very simple affair, but it is far superior to any civilised instrument of the same kind. It consists of a straight iron spike about six inches long, let into the end of a pole of ash, or some other heavy wood, and two wooden jaws lashed one on each side of the spike. These jaws must be made of some tough elastic material, and are so shaped as to be furnished with broad barbs on the inner sides. There is a space of about six inches between the points of the jaws, which project an inch or two beyond the end of the iron spike, but the barbs are not more than a couple of inches apart; beyond and inside the barbs the jaws open out again to a breadth of about four or five inches. When a fish is fairly struck, the wooden jaws expand, the iron spike transfixes him, the weight of the blow forces him up above the barbs, and the jaws closing in again, hold him as fast as though he were in a vice... It holds a salmon as securely as any lyster, and it does not gash and mangle the fish... we were puzzled to find anything that would do for the indispensable iron spike, and at last had to make up our minds to sacrifice the handle of the frying-pan... In a few minutes the rivets were knocked out, and the handle stuck in the embers of the fire. While some of us were manufacturing the spike by beating out the handle on an axe-head and afterwards grinding it to a sharp point on a smooth stone, one of the Indians was hard at work making the pole and jaws with his hatchet and crooked knife. With these two implements an Indian will make anything. I have often watched with admiration a man fell a maple-tree, and in an hour or two turn out a smooth, delicately poised, accurately shaped axe-haft or paddle, with the help of no other tools than his axe and his crooked knife, an instrument which he generally makes for himself out of a file, and which resembles in shape the drawing knife of a shoeing smith. There is one peculiarity about the red man worth mentioning, namely, that in using a knife he invariably cuts towards his body, while a white man always cuts away from his.

Source: 1881 Earl of Dunraven, "A Glimpse at Newfoundland," in The Nineteenth Century January, pp. 101-102.

The snowshoes or "rackets" used here, made by Micmac Indians, differ in size and shape from the Canadian ones, being much larger, and therefore better fitted for light snow. For example, mine were forty-three and a half inches long by seventeen broad. Such a size might indicate an inconveniently great weight, but the pair weighed four and three-quarters pounds. Your feet are enclosed in sealskin, fitting closely like a glove over two or three pairs of socks, and a pair of "vamps" (sort of slippers or stocking-feet made of blanketing, and profusely embroidered with red or particoloured worsted by the squaws.) The sealskin foot glove has a leg piece extending up to below the knee, where it is drawn and secured with a thong. The rackets are slung on lightly, the toes only being fixed with a thong passing round the ankle, and the heel is quite free, so as to permit one to enjoy the privileges of an instep.

Source: 1829 "Recollections of a year in Newfoundland (con't)," in the Harbour Grace Standard, 18 October. Newspaper Collection, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador.

9. Little is known today of Micmac weaving, although there are still a few old people who know how to make the narrow loom used to weave packstraps. Speck describes the loom and the spinning and weaving process. ... Upon a loom (eldaxte 'goin [eitoqte'kn], "weaving instrument") made of wood with from 20 to 30 holes in the bars between the vertical apertures, the women weave pack-straps (wi' SXJ '' buxsxm [wisqo'puksn], "carrying strap")... belts and garters. The material employed in weaving, before sheep wool came into use, was caribou wool. To obtain the wool it was combed from the hide, three-fourths of a pound usually coming from one skin. Bear, beaver, otter, and hare skins, they say, also furnished wool of an inferior sort. When combed and stretched the wool was spun on a wooden spindle (mi" mcmda 'xan [mi'mnta'qn], "spinning instrument"), which was twirled with the fingers, the point resting on a board. When the woolen strands are ready to be woven, they are passed alternately through the holes and slits of the loom. One end of the group of gathered strands is tied to a post, or something equally convenient in the house, and the other end attached to the belt of the woman who is to do the weaving. Thus the loom is near the body of the weaver. By leaning backwards then the weaver can make the cords as tight as she desires. Without shuttle or bar the weaver then passes the ball of yarn with one hand between the alternate strands, separated vertically when the loom is raised with the other hand, and then back again when the loom is lowered. This produces an over-one under-one mesh, and the pattern is determined by the colors of the strands... The art of weaving, the highest artistic accomplishment of the Newfoundland band, seems more closely related to the Micmac; nothing like it occurs among the Montagnais...

Source: 1922 Frank Speck, Beothuk and Micmac. New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, pp. 37-38.

10, 11. The two pieces below give an idea of the extent of Micmac travel in the island, and their reasons for doing so; hunting, trading and guiding. Number 12 mentions the use of wooden rafts for crossing ponds. Indian Brook, Hall's Bay, August 4th. (1871)-The Indians carry on a trade here, taking deer to Tilt cove, Toulingurt [Twillingate], &c., in the season, also taking bear, beaver, &c., during the winter. They also do well by acting as guides for people who go to the bay to shoot and fish; often military officers starting from that place, and crossing the Island to Humber Sound.

Source: 1871 Report on the Newfoundland & Labrador Fisheries, Russell S. Pasley, Commander and Senior Naval Officer on the Fisheries, Journal of the House of Assembly, 1872, Appendix, p. 673.

11.... an Otter's track may now and again be seen, but the Beaver I think must be nearly all destroyed, -which is not surprising, as many traces still remain, about this and the other ponds to the S.E. of Spread Eagle Peak, of dead-falls, &c. used by the Indians for killing that animal. There are also to be found remains of wigwams, and at the edges of the ponds curiously hewn pieces of timber, used by the Indians in making rafts to navigate the ponds with.

Source: 1844 Report of a Survey of an intended Line of Road between Cat's Cove bridge, near the head of Conception Bay, and the Bottom Arm of Ship Harbor in Placentia Bay..., Frederick R. Page, Journal of the House of Assembly, 1843-1844, Appendix for 1844, pp. 82-94.

12. Success in hunting depends on skill and, as the stories below show, on receiving help/win, the spirits and animals themselves. Shamans have the power to contact those spirits and get their help. ... Through the power that [shamans] possessed they were able to find game and to kill it... Le Clercq... writes of a discussion between himself and a Micmac in regard to the value of being a Christian who believes in the sanctity of the Patriarchs; " 'I am then,' responded Ejougoulomouet, 'somewhat better than the Patriarchs, since God has spoken to me during my sleep, and has revealed to me without fail, before it is midday, we shall kill moose and beavers in abundance with which to feast ourselves.' "...

[The shaman] may take advantage of his power over the universe and make the animals come to him .. . .One [story] told to me follows: 'Joe Molly and his friend were up at pe ddwi'gadi k [petawikatik] (Big Baddeck). They decided to catch some muskrats and some eels. They went to a place along the shore at the foot of a landslide and dug a hole there. Then Joe began to call the muskrats, which heeded his call and came to the hole. They kept shooting muskrats until the hole was filled up. The next day Joe said, 'We will catch some eels today.' So they went to the hole and called the eels which came and filled up the hole...

A story of a little different character comes from the same informant: "There was an old man of Cape Breton Island named pedjilddesk [pejial'tesk]. He and his family were hungry, for they had not been able to get any game for a long time. One night he went out and the first thing he saw was the moon... He said to it, 'You know, I have never asked you for anything yet, but now I am going to ask you to get me a moose. I am an old man and can't get one...' The next morning the old woman went to throw back the door of the wigwam and there she saw a moose right in front of the door. . .Then they had 'plenty meat.' "

The possession of power is not always of great benefit either. There is a story... of an old shaman who was so powerful that no wild game could come near him. The people living near him were starving to death because his power drove all the moose away. The means by which the band was saved lay through the action of the shaman and his wife who realized the situation and took steps to have the spell broken. As soon as this was accomplished the buowin was able to call to the slaughter more moose than the people could use. Source: 1943 Frederick Johnson, "Notes on Micmac Shamanism," in Primitive Man 16:3 and 4, pp. 73-75, 80. When did the Micmacs come to Newfoundland and Bay St. George?

There is no agreed-on answer to the question of when the Micmacs came to Newfoundland. The answers on the table range from 9,000 years ago (Conne River Band Council) to the late 1700s (the provincial government). The importance of the question is at least partially responsible for the disagreement about the answer. Its importance is due to its bearing on land claims and native rights of the Micmacs on the island.

The historical evidence which exists clearly indicates that Micmacs were familiar with the island when European explorers first encountered them in the 1600s. The difficulty in determining exact dates comes from the fact that Europeans were ignorant of much of the island until late in its settlement. The lack of knowledge of the west coast, especially among English explorers, means that references are very scarce. Writers in the early 1600s, such as Samuel de Champlain, refer to Newfoundland as part of the Micmacs' territory. In 1616, according to the Jesuit Relations, Micmac territory extended from "Chouacoet [in Gaspe] to Newfoundland." In 1602 an English explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold, described a meeting with Indians off the coast of New England. They "with a piece ofChaIke described the coast thereabouts, and could name Presentic of the New-found-land." "Presentic" was, in fact, what the Micmacs called the fort of Placentia.

There are two reasons why the Micmacs would have occupied Newfoundland. One is that just as some mainland bands had vast territories covering thousands of miles, other bands had territory which crossed expanses of water. Since prehistoric times, the Micmacs crossed to the Magdalen Islands from Cape Breton, the same distance as to Newfoundland. Why should it be surprising that they would occupy an island rich in resources and sparse in Europeans? The second reason is that as natural resources decreased and European settlement increased in Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, the Micmacs had every cause to leave permanently for the still unspoiled island which they were already using seasonally.

Many 19th century references, such as Chappel, date the arrival of the Micmacs in Newfoundland to the mid-1700s. The existence of reports from a century earlier belies the accuracy of that dating, but there is a possible explanation for the discrepancy. In the mid-1700s, large numbers of Micmacs migrated permanently from Cape Breton to Newfoundland about the time of the take-over of Cape Breton by Britain in 1763. The Micmacs to whom Chappel and others talked may have been referring to that major migration.

The question of Micmac presence in Newfoundland is confusing for two reasons: lack of documentation and lack of interest. Both are related to the late arrival of European record-keepers, coupled with earlier arrival of Europeans whose presence justified European claims to the island, but who were fishermen, not recorders. European settlers and Micmacs did not share the same parts of the island, and in all likelihood tried to avoid each other. The only country whose people were on good terms with the Micmacs was France, the country whose records we have not searched. However, the reliance by European explorers on Micmacs as guides and sources of information suggests that Micmacs were present and very familiar with the land by the time European explorers arrived. Very early explorers, such as Champlain, mention the presence of Micmacs on the island, and later explorers, like Captain James Cook, relied on Micmacs for their knowledge for the interior.

But the records of explorers give us relatively little information about their guides, the Micmacs. The objective of the early explorers was to learn about the geography of the island, and the Micmacs were simply the available means of doing that. Later explorers of the interior were primarily interested in the Beothuks and therefore, except for a few like Cormack, they did not keep extensive notes about their guides.

In this section you will find references to when Micmacs came to Newfoundland, early records of Micmac presence on the island, why and how they came, and how they kept their ties with Nova Scotia.

1. Millais was told this rather tongue-in-cheek Newfoundland creation story by his Micmac guides. .. .When Manitou, the Great Spirit, was making the continent of the New World he found he had much material left over in the shape of rocks, swamps, and useless trees. So he formed a big rubbish heap by casting it all into the sea to the north-east, and called it wee-soc-kadoo. Several years after, Cabot discovered it and claimed the island for Great Britain, when it was called Newfoundland.

Source: 1907 J. G. Millais, Newfoundland and its Untrodden Ways. New\brk: Longmans, Grecne & Co., p. 1.

2, 3. Below is a reference to Micmacs in Newfoundland by Samuel de Champlain, one of the earliest explorers of Atlantic Canada. The next piece (#3) gives the trader Nicholas Denys's reason for why Micmacs from Cape Breton came to the island in greater numbers and for extended periods in the 1600s. Moose , rabbits, and grouse are plentiful. The island is not inhabited. The savages sometimes in summer cross over from the mainland to see the vessels engaged in the cod-fishery .


The original inhabitants of Newfoundland were Beothuks; but the Montagnais and Micmacs paid visits there in summer. [Notes in text]

Source: 1604 The. Publications of the Champlain Society, The Works of Samuel de Champlain, vol. 4. Toronto: The Champlain Society; Reprinted 1971, University of Toronto Press, pp. 163-164.

3.This island [Cape Breton] has also been esteemed for the hunting of Moose. They were found formerly in great numbers, but at present there are no more. The Indians have destroyed everything, and have abandoned the island, finding there no longer the wherewithal for living. It is not that the chase of small game is not good and abundant there, but this does not suffice for their support, besides which it costs them too much in powder and ball. For with one shot of a gun, with which they kill a Moose, they

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