Mi'kmaq contributions to Newfoundland:

By Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Thunder Cloud

Column Four

Pjila'si (welcome),

We may not realize it, but the Mi'kmaq people have made many important historical contributions to this Province that are well known and documented. Here I would like to mention a few of them. You can be sure that there are many others.

Edward Tompkins in 1984, regarding the Geological Survey of Newfoundland mentioned this:

"Alexander Murray (1810-1884), and James Patrick Howley (1847-1918) gained their detailed knowledge of the interior from Micmac guides as they explored and mapped Newfoundland's hitherto unknown areas. The Newfoundland Micmac, primarily settled in Conne River, Fortune Bay and in Bay St. George, maintained traditional trapping and subsistence hunting patterns in the interior throughout the nineteenth century. Using the various water systems, they developed a series of inland canoe routes that extended from the south coast to the west coast and up to Notre Dame Bay. Their contribution to the mapping of the island's interior is demonstrated by the number of Micmac place names, such as Meelpaeg Lake, Keagudeck Lake, Mount Sylvester and the Annieopsquotch Mountains, still found on Newfoundland maps."

In 1998, Ralph T. Pasture, with the Archaeology Unit and History Department at Memorial University wrote: "The Mi'kmaq intimate knowledge of the interior meant that they were in great demand as guides for explorers and sportsmen."

This is documented fact, as all recorded expeditions mention the key role of the Mi'kmaq guides and of how knowledgeable they were of the lands. The expedition by William Cormack in 1822 across Newfoundland in search of Beothuk settlements is considered the first by Europeans and would have been disastrous without Sylvester Joe, his Mi'kmaq guide. I should point out that Mi'kmaq were not hired or ever used to hunt and kill Beothuk, as has been suggested by some European historians in the past. When they were used, scouts up ahead would warn of the approaching party, so that many of the encampments were deserted by the time the expedition arrived.

These guides were essential in the successful travels of Missionary Edward Wix, Geologists: J.B. Jukes, Alexander Murray and James P. Howley, and J.G. Millais, author of the 1907 book, Newfoundland and it's Untrodden Ways, who all relied upon Mi'kmaq knowledge of the land.

When the colonial government wanted a telegraph line across the province, again, it was the talents of the Mi'kmaq guides that were used in the 1850s to help survey the route from Port aux Basques to St. John's. In 1856, the colonial government was smart enough to keep them on as repairman to keep the line working.

This use of the scouting talents of the Mi'kmaq continued into the 1860s, when the colonial government was having problems having mail delivered. It was decide that the extensive knowledge of the scouts and guides could be used. The Mi'kmaq had a network of elaborate trails that reached northern settlements and the mail got through. In 1875, the survey for the Newfoundland railway began. The following Mi'kmaq from Conn River (Miawpukek): Stephen Jeddore, Frank Bernard, Peter John, Noel Bernard, Joseph Bernard, Noel Louis Sr., Noel Louis jr., Edward Poulette and John Barrington, were hired as guides. They were hard workers and worked for little pay.

The historical role played by the Mi'kmaq, these "seasoned hunters and gatherers", will forever be an essential part of our Provinces's history.

Compiled by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi'kmaq Researcher

Cape St. George, NL.

jasenbenwah@hotmail.com

jasen_index.html

The Georgian Newspaper, November 4-10, 2003

Sources:

Renee Jeddore, http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/2772/

Ralph T. Pastore, Archaeology Unit & History Department Memorial University of Newfoundland

Edward Tompkins

 

Website Copyright 2003 Jasen Benwah