Conflicting Mi'kmaq/ European History

By Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Thunder Cloud

Pjila'si (welcome),

The European account of the history of the Americas is a very questional one. It is biased in their favor. They depict themselves as civilized and cultured people that explored the world in the name of God and country. We know that this statement is a joke as these European were as sewer rats spreading evil everywhere it ventured. They annilated, desimated, raped, poisoned, distroyed, infected and invaded the occupied lands they so called "discovered".

As I sit here and write this I cannot help but think of how much that I, a Mi'kmaw, have lost most of the old knowledge that the proud Mi'kmaq people have pasted down for a millennium. It was an oral knowledge not a written one and I have lost it. Why? Directly because of the European invasion of the Americas. Schools taught English to my ancestors for many generations. We were supposed to be assimilated into the poor white population. Our lives have been drastically changed forever. I do not blame the descendants of European settlers for the actions of their ancestors. Many of these these same descendants would say that we are better off. Many of the advancements and improvements to our lives have come with a very high price and I find it hard to swallow. Our environment is decimated: air, water, soil and the ocean has been contaminated with every poison imaginable. Global warming will cause untold problems for future generations. Our economies are based on a lie because it does not include the very important environmental component. I have lived a European life style - it seems far removed from the Mi'kmaq traditions and culture of our forefather. The injustice still continues.

My family lived off the land up until the last 40 years. Fishing, hunting, trapping, farming and logging were the main stay. There has been a sawmill in my family for well over a hundred years. It provided stability -we could make money to buy provisions and we bartered lumber for things we did not have. Like most families, after Confederation, it was more about getting a job and earning the "poor white's" second greatest evil, money - with the introduction of alcohol being the greatest evil.

The Port au Port Peninsula, like most of rural Newfoundland and Labrador was very slow to inter the 20th century. But our problems began long ago when our Mi'kmaq territories were confiscated- we became French territory, and it meant that our people learnt the French language. Both parties even became allies against the "sadistic" British Empire -our lands were tossed about from one empire to the next. Many waves of our people came over from Wunama'kik because of the French and eventually inter-married with much older Ktaqamk Mi'kmaq families that were here long before the Europeans came. When we became subjects of the British empire it became a curse to be either French or Mi'kmaq. Thankfully, there were no expulsions in this area in the same scale as those that had occurred many times earlier Acadia.

I was not taught French at home, alot of families did, and people were not openly bragging of their Mi'kmaq heritage. My parents and grandparents spoke French. My great grandparents spoke French and some Mi'kmaq. We were told of our Mi'kmaq heritage- it was brief and we were told not to make a big deal of it. Our people were ashame of our Mikmaq history and the government hoped we would be all asimilated by now. To complicate things, I often hear about the French Acadian heritage of the Bay St. George and Port au Port Penisula as part of the famous: French Shore. But such a statement is incomplete because it does not take into account our aboriginal history. Sure, some French deserters came to this area, but, they married local Mi'kmaq girls. The French language still flourishes here. Often Mi'kmaw families were referred to as Acadians, some were both.

Back in the times of my great grandparents, people really did live as aboriginals. They lived in harsh environments, worked hard and scratched a living fishing, hunting, trapping and a bit of farming. They were proud of their achievements. When you first think of Ktaqamk Mi'kmaq you probably think of those living at the Conn River Reserve - a beautiful area thatwe are all proud of. I am related to the Benoits and others there- I do not live there and I have no wish to live there. The majority of Ktaqamk Mi'kmaq are scattered throughout Bay St. George, Bay of Islands, Northern Peninsula, Bay St George South, Codroy, South-West Coast, and central Newfoundland. But, we are not recognized by the Federal Indian Act. Only a select group living on the Conn River Reserve have that privilege. In regards to our heritage, Chief Bert Alexander of the Ktaqamkuk Mi'kmaq Alliance would say, "Our Mi'kmaq status is our birthright and not a privilege". It is our birthright and I refuse to be denied any longer.

I believe that there is hope for our people. There is a rebirth of our culture. I want to know my heritage, my ancestors, the old ways and language of our people. I do not want to live in the past. But, cannot see the future without taking into account our past. Only then can I look ahead. This knowledge makes us better appreciate who we are.

We still fight for status that we so rightly deserve. It amazes me when relatives go to Mi'kmaq reserves on the mainland and the U.S. and are welcomed with open arms by our brothers there and get their status. Why won't the Federal government live up to it's commitment and give back to our people the dignity we are owed, recognition of our Mi'kmaq blood.

"Finally, the aboriginal people of Nujio'qoniik and all of Ktaqamk are coming together for a common cause- our culture and heritage. We will no longer be ashamed of ourselves. Assimilation of our people will be halted . From now on we will celebrate who we are. We will get to know our ancestors through our history. We are proud Mi'kmaq."

Wela'lin (thank you).

Written by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi'kmaq Researcher

Cape St. George, NL.

jasenbenwah@hotmail.com

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