Historical Mi'kmaq Government

By Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Spotted Wolf

Column Six

Pjila'si (welcome),

Contrary to modern beliefs, civilization and Government are not something that was foreign to the Americas before European contact. The aboriginal peoples were very much organized based on territory, settlements and other factors. It provided for safety, defined hunting territory and for settling disputes. There are a number of levels of organization that existed and I will explore them briefly.

Eastern Canada's governments formed the Wabanaki Confederacy, a loose federation that included the Maliseet, Penobscots, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki. It has been said that at its peak, this confederacy influenced tribal life from the Gaspé Peninsula to northern New England. Because of the nature of Mi'kma'ki (the Micmac homeland,) the Grand Council's jurisdiction was and is international - spanning across the U.S. border.

Originally, Mi'kma'ki was made up of seven Districts, later an eighth district was formed: Unama'kik, (from which Ktaqamkuk was included until 1860) Eski'kewaq, Sipekne'katik'ik and Kespukwitk, Sikniktewaq, Epekwitk, Piktukewaq and Kespe'kewaq. Each had a Saqamaw, and also each nomadic group had a leader as well.

The Grand Council was led by several officers, including a kji'saqmaw (grand chief), a puoin (treaty holder and counselor), and a kji'keptan (grand captain, advisor on political affairs). The Sante Mawiomi determined where families might hunt, fish, and set up their wumitki (camps). The Grand Council also managed relations with other aboriginal nations.

Mi'kmaq First Nation communities (reservations) today are governed by an elected Saqamaw (chief) and council, who hold office for two years.

Canada has 30 separate groups of Mi'kmaq, but only one Mi'kmaq tribe is recognized in the U.S., the 500 member Aroostook Band of Mi'kmaq in northern Maine, which received state recognition in 1973 and federal status in 1991. Because of the 1794 Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States, the Mi'kmaq have the right to move freely back-and forth across the border. Many have chosen to leave Atlantic Canada in favor of the northeastern United States. Presently, more than 2,000 Mi'kmaq reside in the greater Boston area (making them one of the largest Native aboriginal groups in New England). Several hundred more live in New York City.

In the 1970's, Mi'kmaq from the Newfoundland Communities, including Conne River and the groups in Labrador came togther to discuss working towards recognition by the federal government. This led to the formation of the Cape St. George Indian Band and the Bay St. George Regional band. Shortly after, both Conne River and the Labrador Innu decided to go their separate ways. In the early 1980's the Federation of Newfoundland Indians was formed and covered 10 local bands that later became 9 when Bartletts Harbour was dropped. The work of the FNI and their class action suite led to the out-of-court settlement to create the landless band, Benoit 1st Nation became included in this process.

In Newfoundland today, Saqamaw Mise'l Joe leads Samiajij Miawpukek (Conne River), he was selected Saqamaw by secret ballot on January 7, 1983. He is the only Saqamaw from Ktaqamkuk recognized by the Grand Council. The reserve was officially recognized in June 25, 1987 but has existed as early as 1870. Off- reserve, we had other organizations representing our people. The Federation of Newfoundland Indians was the umbrella group for nine individual bands that include: Corner Brook Indian Band Council, Benoit's Cove Indian Band Council, Flat Bay Indian Band Council, St. George's Indian Band Council, Port au Port East Indian Band Council, Indian Head First Nations, Exploits Indian Band Council, Glenwood Mi'kmaq First Nations, and Gander Bay Indian Band Council. Most of these bands were disbanded after the formation of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq Band.

The Qalipu Mi'kmaq 1st Nation Band officially recognized on September 26, 2011 and represents the Mi'kmaq of the 9 wards throughout Western and Central Newfoundland. The wards are Port au Port, Stephenville-Stephenville Crossing, St. George's, Flat Bay, Corner Brook, Benoit's Cove, Gander Bay, and Glenwood. Members of the Sip' kop Mi'kmaq Band from St. Alban's area across from Conne River were also included as were members of the Benoit 1st Nation Band of Cape St, George, NL.

The Benoit First Nation formed on Sept 15, 2005 was formed to re-ignite the Cape St. George Indian Band that was disbanded since 1980's and it represents the Mi'kmaq of the Port au Port Peninsula area.

It is my hope that we will regain self-government for all our people and that in the future all Ktaqamkukewa'q Mi'kmaq would be untied under one tribal council, serving all Ktaqamk Mi'kmaq, including those living on various reserves throughout our province and those living off reserve.

Wantaqo'ti, (peace).

Compiled by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi'kmaq Researcher

Cape St. George, NL.



Updated on September 1, 2013


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


Website Copyright © 2003-2004 Jasen Sylvester Benwah