The Jesuits and the Mi'kmaq people:

By Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Thunder Cloud

Column Three

Pjila'si (welcome), in this column, I would like to discuss the Jesuit Missionaries and their relationship with our ancestors. Our ancestors were a proud and noble people and this has been acknowledged as being so. The Jesuits who lived amongst the Mi'kmaq in our land for many years after European contact had some interesting comments about their hosts. They had for the most part nothing but respect and admiration for the natives-especially when they would compare their behavior to the behavior of the European settlers-which was nothing to brag about.

Reverent Pierre Baird, of the Jesuits in 1614 said: "This friendship and fidelity of the said tribes was especially noticeable after our rout by the English, as you will hear. For, as soon as they heard about it, they came to us at night, and consoled us as best they could, offering us their canoes and their help to take us anywhere we wished to go. They also made the proposition, that if we wanted to live with them, there were three Captains-Betsabes, Aguigueou and Asticou, each one of whom, for his share, would take ten of our band (since there were thirty of us left), and would take care of us until the following year, when the French ships would arrive upon the coast; and that in this way we should be able to go back to our own country without falling into the hands of the wicked Ingrés, as they call the English. These were not false pretenses nor snares to entrap us, for you will hear farther on of the good treatment received from them by Father Enemond and his band; and at Port Royal during three winters, when we had great need of them, how faithful and reliable we found them…."

He also said: "The nature of our Savages is in itself generous and not malicious. They have rather a happy disposition, and a fair capacity for judging and valuing material and common things, deducing their reasons with great nicety, and always seasoning them with some pretty comparison."

To quote the great Mi'kmaq elder, Daniel Paul "We were not the savages", our people, in fact, were not the "unintelligent savages" the military, settlers and Anglo-Saxon Historians had made them out to be. They were civilized in their own way- and this was totally alien to the European perspective. The Europeans dealt with this the only way their limited intellect allowed them. It was strange or unknown -it is dangerous and must be destroyed.

Here in Newfoundland, the colonial government had a plan to assimilate the natives. The Beothuk were no longer a problem, but the Mi'kmaq were. Religious missionaries would go to the villages and take the culture, and language away- by teaching English and Christianity. Later, to augment this they concocted elaborate resettlement programs where settlers of European stock would be moved to theses communities- again to assist in the assimilation process. This process was continued in 1949 with Confederation, when the Federal Government was not pressed by our provincial government into recognizing our people, as was promised.

Next column we will discuss Mi'kmaq historical contributions to our great province.

Compiled by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi'kmaq Researcher

Cape St. George, NL.

The Georgian Newspaper, October 21-27, 2003


The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610 to 179,


Website Copyright © 2003 Jasen Benwah