(Where the Sand Blows...)
Vignettes of Bay St. George Micmacs
That some private men in the Port of Ingarnish in Cape Brittain, Contrary to the Governor's Order as I have often been informed Enables the Indians [Micmacs] to come over from Hence to Cape ray to take furrs and Hunt for Venison, which is a very great prejudice to us that Fish and Trade in those parts, the fear of those Indians deterrs our People so much that we have great Difficulty to get men to go there...
Source: Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, CO 194/9, 1733-34, ff 177.
3, 4. The letter below, and the next, give the objections of English settlers to Micmac hunting and trapping. Both groups were competing/or the same resources, and the settlers wanted to eliminate their competition. The Micmac Indians infest White Bay in that manner that makes it impossible for me or any other Person settled here to make a Life of it catching fur. I have 200 traps and used to catch three Hundred Pounds of a Winter but now I do not catch forty or fifty Pounds in consequence of the Micmacs infesting that bay, they also infest the Bay of Islands, Boon [Bonne] Bay, and the Bay of St. George's. I am informed by those that live there that they do a great deal of Injury to the Fur Catchers in that quarter. Their principal resort is in St. George's Bay where they are in the habit of selling their fur to Mr. Philip Le Chevy, a Jersey merchant... I am fully persuaded that if those [merchants] are empowered it will put a stop finally to their visiting the Island which is so much desired by all who are concerned in the Fur Business.
Source: 1819 Letter from John Gale, furrier and planter in Moreton's Harbour, to Governor Hamilton, 10 September. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, GN2/11A Y30 ff 342-343
The Micmacs alluded to [in Blanchard's Cove], had for some time previous, been very troublesome and mischievous, interfering with the traps of the English, and even threatening them with violence, declaring that the King of the French was dying, and his death was to be the signal for France and America to declare war with England, in which case they were engaged, and quite ready to exterminate all the English on the West Coast of Newfoundland. It is the opinion of the oldest and most intelligent resident, that the object of the Micmacs was to frighten the English from that particular hunting ground, and that they even came from Cape Breton and Nova Scotia in considerable numbers, with the intention of driving them off by force of arms...
... we resolved to call in at Bay St. George where about 60 [Micmacs] reside and acquaint them with our proceedings... I found out two old men pretending to considerable influence over all the Indians in Newfoundland. One calling himself "King Mitchell" the other "Noel Gougond" ... calling upon them to caution all the young men (who were at this time absent on a hunting expedition) against interfering with the occupations or injuring the property of the English... They seemed fully to understand what was meant and promised to impress this caution upon the minds of all the tribe...
Source: 1845 Letter from J. Pott to Sir John Harvey, 26 October. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, GN2/2 ff 470-77
5. British officials and settlers were not the only ones for whom the competition for furs caused problems. The presence of British furriers endangered the livelihoods of the Micmacs and, as the letter below says, their lives. Bay of Islands, 14 Sept. 1875
Last evening a respectable Indian of St. George's Bay returned from furring came out to the Humber Mill Premises where he disposed of his beaver skins. Without the slightest provocation he was struck... If Indians could not come out to trade they could not live-if white people attacked them and the St. John's government would not protect them, the Indians will fight.
Source: G. W. B. Carter, Letter. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, GN2/2.
6. Crqfton's report refers to the Micmacs' preference/or trading with the French, and to their ability to get along with at least some of their English neighbours. Like others, he says they arrived in Bay St. George in the late 1700s. Being arrived near St. George's Bay and having heard of the foreign Indians, those from Nova Scotia and the Isle of Cape Breton, resorting to St. George's Harbour at the head of the bay, I went to investigate.. .These settlers [English] tell me that... these Indians have always been on an amicable footing with the two families. The Indians travel overland with their furs annually to Fortune Bay or Bay d'Espoir where they receive in exchange shot and blanketing. When the French were in Newfoundland, those Indians always carried their furs to them in preference to trading with the British... I understand they don't exceed 100 in number and it has been 10 years since they first established in St. George's Bay...
Source: 1798 Captain Ambroise Crofton, HMS Pluto, 10 January. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, C0194/40 ff 17-34
7. In addition to being blamed by white settlers/or causing them economic hardship, the Micmacs also became scapegoats for the wasteful slaughter of animals by others.
... I was told that Captain Baird last year killed 27 deer and left the greater part of them to rot upon the ground. My informant also told me that he saw over 30 carcasses in one day's walk lying rotting in the sun; and that they were killed by the Indians. I was also informed by another person that a Mr. Boyd, some years ago took away in one year 120 antlers having left the carcasses upon the ground. I know that there is every great prejudice prevailing on this head, and wishing to hear both sides of the question I made inquiries and was perfectly convinced that not only are these prejudices unfounded, but even more than that, the very persons who make these complaints are the greatest offenders.
Source: 1871 " 'Reminiscences of a Trip to the Western Shore of Newfoundland,' A Lecture by Rev. M. F. Howley, D.D." Terra Nova Advocate, 23 February 1882. Newspaper Collection, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador.
8. One group of whites who benefitted from Micmac trapping were merchants. The description of trading practices below suggests that the merchants ensured they came out ahead in trade, with Indians and whites alike.
These Indians of Newfoundland carry on a traffic with the shore inhabitants in furs and peltries, for which they take in exchange articles of food and clothing, necessary for their families. They are very punctual to their engagements. In the spring and fall they bring in their furs, and take a new supply for the ensuing season. The trader extends to them a credit, which they are careful not to lose, as a failure to obtain the accustomed supply, would expose them to suffering, if not starvation. The 'credit system' is therefore in full vogue between the English factors and savages of the island, and if the advantage happens there, as elsewhere, to be principally on the side on the creditor, it also serves to save the poor debtor from extreme want and deprivation. There are instances of great wealth accumulated in a few years, by this kind of traffic with the Indians of Newfoundland. There, as every where else, it seems to be the lot of the red man to fall a prey to the cupidity and avarice of the whites...
Source: 1839 Ephraim Tucker, Five Months in Labrador and Newfoundland... Summer 1838. Concord: I. S. Boyd & W. White, pp. 49-50.
9. The piece below gives the Micmacs' view of increased resource competition. For Micmacs, the damage to their economic well-being was first caused by English furriers but later by increased settlement and development which destroyed wildlife habitats.
Poor old Abraham Joe was very unhappy about the state of things in Newfoundland. Too much civilisation was destroying the island, in his estimation. 'Yes, sir,' he said to me one day, 'things is very different from what they used to be. Lord! I mind the times when a man might travel from one end of the island to the other and never see nobody nowheres. Beavers were plenty then, and there was a good price for fur too; now there ain't no price, and beavers and otters ain't plenty like they used to be. Those d- lumbermen be come up the rivers and scare the game. Why, there ain't a bay scarcely anywheres without one, mebbe even two liviers in it. Yes, sir, it's true; Newfoundland he spoil, too much people come, too much people altogether in the country, no use furring any more, no price now for beaver skins, very bad times now, most impossible to make a living...
Source: 1881 Earl of Dunraven, "A Glimpse at Newfoundland," in The Nineteenth Century January, p. 93.
10, 11. This passage, and the next, illustrate how the Micmacs lost their lands on the west coast. In the first, a settler came to the area and acquired land from the Micmacs. The second is a call for regulation and planning of such settlement. Ironically, the author refers to the area as "Indian lands."
... I went five or six miles up the [Codroy] river in a boat, and visited some of the Farmers. Michael Downey, who resides about five miles up, left this port [St. John's] in the year 1846 to settle there; he purchased a hut and a piece of land from an Indian for the sum of 20s & commenced Fishing and tilling the ground...
Source: 1865 James Hayward, 1 November, Report, Journal of the House of Assembly, p. 431, Appendix, p. 624.
11.It appears to me to be a great desideratum that the island should be divided into districts and townships, upon the Canadian plan, at once; for there is nothing like certainty whenever settlement shall really commence; and that it will on the west coast force itself, is evident from the nature of the soil, and the rapid increase on the Indian lands at St. George's Bay, where there are now not less than four or five hundred whites located, all British subjects. Source: 1842 Sir Richard Bonnycastle, Newfoundland in 1842. London: H. Colburn, p. 250.
How did they live and see their world?
The Micmacs traditionally lived as hunters, and that occupation ordered their world. Where and with whom they lived were determined by the seasonal patterns of animals and other resources. Their technology met the needs of hunting and fishing. Changes in technology, belief and lifestyles have come with adaptation to a modern, industrial world requiring different kinds of knowledge.
In the traditional belief system, many spirits and gods existed, possessing different types and levels of power. Souls of people, animals and objects mixed with supernatural beings, good and evil, to form a supernatural world which existed alongside the natural one. After death souls travelled to another land, where good was rewarded and evil punished - then they were reincarnated. Shamans were the intermediaries between the gods and people. They could foresee the future, cure and cause illnesses and find game, often using animal spirits to help them. Aside from their powers, they were, in many ways, the law-givers in Micmac communities; by their powers and their prestige they were able to maintain social and moral order.
Soon after contact with Europeans, the Micmacs adopted the Roman Catholic faith, and incorporated their traditional beliefs with the new in a unique version of Catholicism. The most venerated saint for the Micmacs is Ste. Anne, mother of Mary. Her day, July 26th, is a time of great celebration, which used to bring Micmacs from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland together at Chapel Island each year. This custom stopped in the 1920s, due to pressure exerted by the church as well as the social disintegration which was occurring at the time. But community-level celebrations continued.
The Micmacs' system of government was quite simple and egalitarian. Each band was governed by a chief chosen for his personal characteristics of fairness and bravery and for his family. Certain families traditionally provided chiefs, and the size and power of the family contributed to the power of the chief. However, decisions were reached by consensus of the village rather than by decree of the chief. Household heads comprised a sort of village council, with the chiefs of a number of villages comprising a regional council. The heads of regional councils met in district meetings when necessary, and the district chiefs and shamans comprised the Grand Council. Kinship structures were similarly loosely organised. The summer village, consisting of a number of extended families, was the largest social grouping. Families might include three or four generations, with young couples living with either set of parents or nearby on their own. Kinship was reckoned on both mother's and father's side, without the strict clan systems found in some North American native groups.
The Micmac language was spoken by many into the early twentieth century, but increased schooling in English and social pressures against "speaking Indian" meant that young people began to lose their language. There are no longer fluent Micmac speakers in Newfoundland, but elderly and middle-aged people remember some of the language. The Micmac language spoken in Newfoundland is almost the same as in Nova Scotia. There are some differences in pronunciation and some archaic words which have remained in use in the Newfoundland dialect. The loss of native languages unfortunately is not unusual among North American native groups. Language and cultural losses have been occurring since Europeans first took an interest in native peoples. The school system accelerated the process by controlling children for at least seven hours a day and often for the whole academic term when they attended residential schools. Children too often "learned" that their culture and language were inferior to the white ways.
In Bay St. George, English became the language of the school and the community. Children were reprimanded and teased for speaking Micmac. Parents who wanted success for their children encouraged use of English. At first, the loss of Micmac was only in the community, where whites and the education system had control. In the country, where hunters relied on Micmac hunting skills and knowledge, the Micmac language remained in use. Men who were young in the 1920s and 1930s remember the language because they used it with their fathers. But with the drop in fur prices and the increase of wage labour in the 1940s, those young men stopped hunting and trapping in the interior and began working at woodswork and construction projects across the island. Their link with their language was lost with the death of their fathers.
Making snowshoes or moccasins remain practiced skills for some people. Other traditional knowledge disappeared when it was no longer needed or due to social pressure against "Indian things." But memories of how to make things and stories of the old ways and old people remain alive in people's memories, and those aspects of Newfoundland Micmac culture will not die as long as they are passed on to the children. In this section, there are descriptions of Micmac communities and social organisation. There are also discussions of their language, medical knowledge, and spiritual beliefs.
1. Below, Chappel describes the appearance of the Micmacs and their community at Seal Rocks. June the twenty-sixth ... Thence we pursued our walk over a stony beach, until we reached the Indian wigwams, situate on the northern shore of [St. George's] bay. The village appeared to be entirely deserted by the men; and the women and children, being naturally shy of strangers, fled to the woods at our approach.
The wigwams, or habitations of the Micmac Indians, are constructed of birch-tree bark in a conical shape; and at the top there is an aperture for the smoke to escape through. They make their fires in the center of the hut; and suspend deers-flesh over it, to dry for the winter consumption ... We also perceived great quantities of stinking fish and bones lying scattered about their wigwams; together with canoes, and large fish-stages...
In their persons, they are robust and tall; with amazing coarse features, very high cheek bones, flattened noses, wide nostrils, small eyes widely separated from each other, and thick black hair hanging perpendicularly from either temple. They are dressed, for the most part, in apparel which they procure from the Europeans at Sandy Point, in exchange for fish, oil, and furs: however, they still preserve a few originalities in their costume, such as deerskin sandals, embroidered red caps, and red cloth greaves in lieu of stockings.
Source: 1818 Lieut. E. Chappel, Voyage of HMS Rosamond to Newfoundland and the Southern Coast of Labrador. London: J. Mawman, pp. 74-75, 79.
2, 3. In the piece below and the next one, the construction and appearance of the wigwam is discussed, in two very different ways. Silas Rand describes a well-organised physical and social structure. The author of the next piece (#3) does not see that there might be order in what he saw only as chaos.
The wigwam is a curious structure... The fire occupies the centre. On each side is the kamigwom [qamikuom]. There sit, on the one side of the fire, the master and mistress; and, on the other, the old people, when there are old people in the family; and the young women, when there are young women, and no old people. The wife has her place next the door, and by her side sits her lord. You will never see a woman setting above her husband, - for towards the back part of the camp, the kutakumuk [kkaqamuk], is up. This is the place of honour. To this place visitors and strangers, when received with a cordial welcome, are invited to come. "Kutakumagual, upchelase [krtaqamakwal, pjila si]," they say to him, "come up toward the back part of the wigwam."
The children are taught to respect their parents. Many a white family might take a lesson from them in their respect... They do not pass between their parents and the fire, unless there are old people, or strangers, on the opposite side.
The inmates of the "camp" have their appropriate postures as well as places. The men sit cross-legged, like the Orientals. The women sit with their feet twisted round to one side, one under the other. The younger children sit with their feet extended in front. To each of these postures an appropriate word is applied. The first is chenumubasi [ji'nmupa'si], I sit down man-fashion, i.e., cross-legged. The second is, mimskulugunabase [mim-skuluknepa'si].. .The third is, sokwodabase [soqwotepa'si]...
When a stranger, even a neighbor, comes into the wigwam of another, if it be in the day time, he steps in and salutes them. "Kwa" is the usual word of salutation... Should it be in the night or evening, this is uttered while standing outside. In that case the response is "Kwa wenin kel [kwe'wenin ki'l]." "Who art thou." You give your name. And if they know you, and are glad to see you, you are invited in at once. If they either know you not, or care not for you, they again ask, "Kogwa pawotumun [kogoey pewatmn]?" "What is your wish?" You must then, of course, do your errand, and go about your business. When you enter, in the day time, you will not "go and sit down in the highest room," or the "most honourable seat," - that is to say, if you are a well-bred Indian, you will not; but you will make a pause at the lowest place, the place next the door. The master of the camp will then say to you, "upchelase [pjila'si]," come up higher.".. .As soon as the visiter is seated, the head-man of the "camp" deliberately fills his pipe; lights it; draws a few whiffs, and then hands it to the other. If there be several, they pass it round. Conversation goes forward... To withdraw during the process of cooking, would be rudeness. It would be a most disreputable thing not to invite a stranger to partake; it would be a grievous offence for him to refuse. There are usually a crowd of neighbours in every "camp" at meal time, when it is known that there is food there; and what there is, is divided among the whole. It may require a visit to several "camps" in succession, to obtain a full meal. I have reason to believe that this hospitality is more the result of custom than any extraordinary generosity. Measures are sometimes adopted to evade it; and they do not hesitate to say they are tired of it, when it has been exacted beyond due bounds...
Source: 1850 Silas Rand, Short Statement of Facts relating to the History, Manners, Customs, Language, and Literature of the Micmac Tribe of Indians, in Nova-Scolia and P. E. Island. Halifax, N.S. pp. 15-16.
August 15 ... I spent part of the day drawing, and then visited the wigwams of the Indians across the bay [at Seal Rocks]. We found them, as I expected, all lying down pell-mell in their wigwams, and a strong mixture of blood was perceptible in their skins, shape, and deportment: some were almost white, and sorry I am to say, that the nearer they were to our nobler race the filthier and the lazier they were. The women and children were particularly disgusting in this respect. Some of the women were making baskets, and others came in from collecting a fruit called here the baked apple... and when burnt a little it tastes exactly like a roasted apple. The children were catching lobsters and eels, of which there are a great many in the bay,... The young Indians found them by wading to their knees in eel grass.
Source: 1869 R. Buchanan (ed.), Life and Adventures of John James Audubon, London, S. Low, son, and Marston, p. 298.
4. Rev. Lind, below, distinguishes between Micmacs and Jack-a-tars. "Jack-a-tar" can mean French, Micmac, or mixed French and Micmac ancestry. Lind describes Jack-a-tars as being distinct from Micmacs, and his usage shows that the term was insulting then as it is today.
July 17, 1857;.. .sailed along shore to Seal Rocks where there is a small settlement of MicMac Indians, all R.C. Looked into several of their huts where they appeared to live in the very lowest state. They obtain a livelihood by fishing and hunting, the women making baskets and moccasins, they are a squalid and miserable race, chiefly from Cape Breton having the mixed blood of the Indians and French.
On my return to Sandy Point went to see a poor man who has been very ill for 7 months. He and his family belong to a much despised and neglected race called "Jack a Tars." They speak an [illegible] dialect of French and Indian. All R.C.s and of almost lawless habits.
Source: 1864 Diary of Rev. Henry Lind, Sandy Point, 1857. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, P6/A/9.
5, 6, 7. The following three pieces tell us something about the political and community structure of the Micmacs. I will close this letter by giving you the substance of a conversation which I had with an Indian woman... in Trinity. The wigwam in which she and her family were, was about a quarter mile in the woods. It was made of bark, of a conical form, and about twenty feet in circumference. The fire was in the middle of the wigwam, and the top left open, which served for a chimney; and it was only near the centre that we could stand upright. As there were no seats, we sat down upon the ground. There were two women, one girl, and two boys. They were of the tribe of Micmacks from the island of Cape Breton. They had been in different parts of Newfoundland for a considerable time, and subsist partly by mendicity, and partly by making small trinkets which people purchase of them. They are of a Mulatto colour; their clothes in some respects, resemble those worn by the English, except their caps, which, like the wigwams, are in the form of a sugarloaf.
.. .1 began as follows:-Of what tribe are you? "We be Micmack tribe, from Cape Breton." Are there many of your tribe in Cape Breton? "Oh yes, great many; me suppose three or four hundred." Do your people live together in the woods in Cape Breton? "0, we live in towns with merchants." Do you live in wigwams in Cape Breton? "Yes, but not like dis; dis no good wigwam, we better in Cape Breton, and here be merchant's hotise, and here be wigwam." Have you any head-man or chief among you? "0 yes, we have chief in Cape Breton." What kind of laws have you?
"0 we very good laws." But suppose one of your tribe should kill another, what punishment would your chief inflict upon the offender? "0, we never kill one another, we only kill Esquimaux." But suppose one of your tribe should kill one of your own tribe, what would your chief then do to him. "0 kill him." If one of your tribe steal from another, what would your chief do to him. "Take something from him." Have you any priest in Cape Breton? "0 yes, we have priest in Cape Breton; twenty years ago our chief send to Quebec for priest, and Bishop said, You build chapel, and me send you Priest, so we build chapel, and den we get Priest." Source: 1822 Rev. John Walsh, Bonavista, Letter, July 30. In 1982 Naboth Winsor, Hearts Strangely Warmed: A History of Methodism in Newfoundland 1765-1925, vol. 1. Gander: B.S.C. Printers, pp. 79-80.
The Micmacs of St. George's Bay can hardly be said to have any kind of civil government. It is true, they acknowledge the descendant of their original leader to be still their Sachem or Chief: but whatever power he may possess, arises more from the ascendancy acquired by his mild and conciliating manners, than from any respect which the Indians pay to the office itself.
The grandson of the old leader held the situation of Chief while we were there: he was a very aged man, and had two or three full-grown sons. The heir-apparent to the Sachemship was a fine tall young man, of a most exemplary character; and one amongst the very small number of those Indians, who, dreading the baneful effects of intoxication, had entirely forsworn the use of spirituous liquors...
The only distinction observable between the Chief and his subjects is in the form of their habitations. The Sachem resides in a square hut, boarded up at the sides; while the other Indians dwell in the conical wigwams before mentioned. The former gains his livelihood exactly in the same manner as the latter; that is to say, by fishing in summer, and hunting in winter. They smile at the notion of any person being permitted to subsist in total idleness, upon the labour of his fellow-creatures.
Source: 1818 Lieut. E. Chappel, Voyage of HMS Rosamond to Newfoundland and the Southern Coast of Labrador. London: J. Mawman, pp. 82-84.
... There was quite a settlement is those parts [Halls Bay], consisting of a small saw-mill and house adjoining inhabited by the white man who ran the mill, and of two or three families of Indians, all rejoicing in the name of Joe. The head of the tribe was old Abraham Joe, a fine specimen of his race, an active upright man, standing about six feet two inches in his moccasins, and broad and strong in proportion. He had spent nearly all his life in Newfoundland, and knew the interior of the island better than any man living. He was a good hunter, trapper, and guide, but he was- well, he is dead, and I will put it mildly-he had the bump of acquisitive-ness highly developed. They had, I should imagine, a very pleasant life, these Indians; and if one can judge by the independence of the men, and the quality of the clothing worn by the girls, they must have been very well off in this world's goods. They had comfortable little cabins, in which they spent the winter in comparative idleness, earning little or nothing. The single exception to this rule was in the case of one of old Abraham Joe's sons, who carried the mail during the winter and spring months between St. John's and the copper mines at the entrance of the Bay. He was well paid, and deservedly so, for his was an arduous task...
... the rest of the family spent their winters lounging about the beach, making perhaps a few mast hoops, butter tubs, or fish barrels, or sitting by the stove indoors, smoking their pipes and doing nothing. In the summer they fished a little, and in the autumn the whole community went up Indian brook and spent two months in the interior of the island, shooting and trapping beavers and otters. Fur was pretty plentiful in those days, and a man could make a good income out of a couple of months' hard work... These Joes' appeared to entertain, to a limited extent, communistic principles, while partially recognising at the same time the right of private ownership in land and chattels. They would use each other's boats, canoes, &c. without hesitation, but spoke of them nevertheless as belonging to some individual member of the sept. They wandered about the island... and some member or other of the family was always turning up at odd times in unexpected places.
Sometimes we would meet a Joe striding over some barren or crossing a lake in his canoe; occasionally a Joe would drop into our camp, miles away from anywhere, unprovided with boat, canoe, provisions or baggage of any kind, and furnished only with a pipe, tobacco, a rusty gun and some powder and lead. He would sit down quietly by the fire and chat a little and smoke a little, and after a while accept, with apparent insouciance, an invitation to eat and drink, and after consuming enough food for three men and swallowing a few quarts of tea, would say, 'Well, I suppose I shall be going now. Adieu, gentlemen, adieu. Yes, I guess I was pretty hungry; most starved, I expect. How am I going to cross the lake? Oh, that's all right; we-that's Old Peter John Joe's son, and I-got a canoe a little way off; mebbe one, two, three, four miles; I'll cross in her, I reckon. Expect 'likely I'll see you again by-and-by-I shall be coming out again about the end of this moon.' 'Well, good bye,' said we, 'but where are you going to? not trapping, evidently, because you have got no traps.' 'Yes, I'm going a trapping, that's so. Not far-mebbe two or three days back in the woods- beaver pretty plenty there; left my traps there last fall-no, let me see, fall before last, I guess.' 'But what are you going to live on all the time?' 'Oh, I got plenty grub, no fear; not much tea, though' (showing a little parcel of the fragrant herb knotted up in a corner of his dirty blanket), 'and no sweetening: mebbe you could spare a little tea and sugar, eh? No! ah well, all the same, never mind, suppose my tea give out, perhaps make some spruce tea, You see young John Joe, he got a cache yonder, away off just across that blue ridge, about one day or one day and a half, or mebbe two days' journey, plenty flour there; and young Peter John Joe and old John Peter Joe, they cached their cooking pots on the little stream there, near the north end of big blueberry pond. See you again soon. Adieu!' and after a few words in Mic Mac to our Indians, this particular Joe would walk off, to be seen no more till he reappeared after some time with half a canoe load of beaver skins, or perhaps to turn up quite unexpectedly in the course of a day or two, in company with some other Joe whom he had come across promiscuous-like in the woods.
Over this small community and large territory old Abraham Joe ruled after the manner of a feudal lord, settling all little disputes and parcelling out the country into hunting grounds for each individual member of his family. Indians are very tenacious of their territorial rights: each man has his own hunting, or rather furring, ground accurately marked out with the marches carefully fixed, perhaps up one river from its mouth to its source, then across in a straight line through the woods to some other creek, and down that stream to such and such a lake, and so one; the boundaries are all arranged among themselves, and it is considered a most iniquitous proceeding for one trapper to trespass on the district belonging to another. Their system of land tenure is similar to that of most primitive peoples in tribal times. They consider that the land belongs in common to the clan, but each member has a certain part of it allotted to him for his temporary use, and he possesses a limited life-ownership over his own particular share...
Source: 1881 Earl of Dunraven, "A Glimpse at Newfoundland," in The Nineteenth Century January, pp. 91-93.
8, 9. The selection below, and the next one, describe aspects of Micmac culture and compare them favourably with European culture. Rand, below, stresses the complexity of the Micmac language and explains something about its grammar. The next piece (#9) discusses Micmac medical skills.
The language of the Indians is very remarkable. One would think it must be exceedingly barren, limited in inflection, and crude. But just the reverse is the fact. It is copious, flexible, and expressive. Its declension of Nouns, and conjugation of Verbs, are as regular as the Greek, and twenty times as copious. The full conjugation of one Micmac Verb, would fill quite a large volume! In its construction and idiom it differs widely from the English. This is why an Indian usually speaks such wretched English. He thinks in his own tongue, and speaks in ours; and follows the natural order of his own arrangement. He commits such blunders as the following: "Five hundred musquash killum my father." "Long time ago, when first Indians makum God;" for, "my father killed five hundred muskrats;" and, "when God first made the Indians." There are fewer elementary sounds in Micmac than in English. They have no r, and no/or v. Instead of r they say / in such foreign words as they adopt. And droll enough work they sometimes make in translating back and forth, from one language to the other, and in attempting not to confound r and /, while speaking English. The name of an hour is in Micmac the same as that of an owl, (kookoogues [kukuk-wes]) because when they first attempted to say it, they had to say owl, and then they could think of the name of that nocturnal bird in their own tongue, more readily than they could recall a foreign term...
Return to top of page
Copyright © 2002-2003 Jasen Benwah
Thanks for Dropping By