The search for native history and our place in it.

By Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Thunder Cloud

Pjila'si (welcome),

Genealogy is the buzz word these days and it amazes me at the volumes of people searching for their family history. It is a very popular past time. For me genealogy is the most constructive and educational hobby one could possibly have and I incourage others to take part. It is very rewarding to know one's family history. It is about sharing and exchanging information and verifying sources. It is especially useful as a tool in determining Aboriginal ancestry.

Do I have an aboriginal ancestor? Yes. For the most part, all my acestors are Mi'kmaw families. So, how much Mi'kmaw am I ? If my ancestors were aboriginal on both sides, wouldn't it make me Mi'kmaw? Mi'kmaw + Mi'kmaw = Mi'kmaw. Absolutely, and I am and proud of it. My documentation proves this without a doubt. There are many of us living on and off the Island (Ktaqamk). To the European explorers it was new found land. The island was not new or lost when our people were making seasonal camps and permanent settlements here long before "they" came.

Do I want to start living in a wigwam and start trapping beavers? No (some may), but I would like my family to know how to build a wigwam, weave baskets, make traditional medicines, speak the language, know the history and culture of a people decimated.

I talk to many people about what status would mean to them. Many say hunting and fishing rights would be enough. I , for one, would be happy with just official status under the Federal Indian Act. Others want a reserve. A reserve in Bay St. George (Nujio'qoniik) is not necessary to some, however one must remember that a reserve where traditional language, customs, language and heritage is protected and allowed to flourish is not a bad thing.

In a multicultural community one's values, traditions, and culture can erode and fade away. This is especially so with children who are often exposed to the main stream anglo- saxion life style and not their own tradition values, language and culture. A reserve can help reverse this assimilation that is still taking place. Conne River is a proud example of this. I am aware of the arguments against having a reserve- most of it is based on lies.

Looking at our history, one can see that the aboriginal peoples of the Americas were not prepared for what was it hit them when the European infestation began. Many tribes welcomed them with open arms- only to be nearly wiped out by the resulting and long-lasting effects, including disease, loss of habitate, loss of food sources, homicide and genocide. I could go into greater detail about the many resulting problems, but those of us who accept the truth- know what I am talking about.

As for our early settlements, there was a Mi'kmaq community living in St. George's Bay (Nujio'qoniik) who were granted land by the British. I would love to get my hands on that document. It also seems that the Europeans, for the most part lived on Sandy Point for a time, while the natives stayed in the St. George's area. Mi'kmaq settlements existed in Codroy, Stephenville Cossing, and many other surrounding areas as well. Increased European presence in the area pushed the Mi'kmaq in all directions to the Port au Port Penisula, Fox Island River, Codroy, towards Bay D' Spear, Conne River and beyond.

In Stephenville, my ancestors were granted blocks of land. This land later was seized by the crown for the American base. It has yet to be returned. Maps and supporting documentation exist and I have a copy of a pre-base map that shows this. Most are not aware of this fact.

Earlier our people became allies with the French against the British and so began a long relationship that still exists today. We did'nt pick the winning side - it was the lesser of two evils and it was necessary for our survival. Today, the Francophone movement strives hard to maintain the French language and they deserve much respect for it. They also seem to accept the need for the aboriginal movement to also exist and co-exist. In the end, I expect it will mean cooperation and sharing. We are not threatened nor have we ever been threatened by the Francophone struggle as it is also part of our history. Our common enemy seems to be the federal government and it's lack of desire to settle the long standing desputes and claims.

I do not want to seem negative but I see many changes coming to the area in the future- most of which will not be welcomed by anyone. Short-sightedness on the part of the logging industry has resulted into devastation of our forests. The Stephenville paper mill may be the first casualty. The resulting damage to the local economy will have long-lasting effects. As a province we have little to show for confederation since 1949. We have sold our soul to the devil for a dollar and it will haunt us forever. Our fisheries have been and still are mis-managed. Our mining industry has been gutting our mineral wealth, and our oil industry is yelding little benefits. Globalization is another buzz word and it works for urban centres while at the same time is devastating to rural communities. The very future prosperity of our people and land may lie in our ability to develop tourism and aboriginal infrastructure.The aboriginal movement, if successful could bring much needed dollars to the region. Our very future here may depend on it.

We must not forget the environment as it is Mother Earth who must be protected at all costs. Jobs are not now or ever, more important than safe and clean air, water and soil. We must never forget this. I believe that government must take responsibility in this regard. Dumpsites are an imported European legacy, our people in the past used everything and antropogists will not find ancient native dumpsites. Today and everyday forward we need to think of the three R's; Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. No more dumpsites. It has to be the way of the future if we are to protect Mother Earth for our children and our children's children.

Our people are not united as I would like them to be in the fight, but, the struggle for Indian status continues- and on many fronts, both with FNI and KMA (with the Sip'kop Mi'kmaq Band) and the Conne River Reserve (Samiajij Miawpukek who have status and are looking for more territory, hunting and fishing rights). All successes are important on all fronts and I will not partake with in-fighting between our people. Whatever headway is made, I believe, will benefit all our people- and that is what counts. Only with strong leadership will we prevail.

Please check out my website at: for more history on our Mi'kmaq history. In the fall, my site will be moving to a permanent home with a larger webspace, expanded family tree, additional old photos, and much, much more of everything. I have used my own family history as a stepping stone to larger things. It will be a celebration of all our people in Nujio'qoniik and all that we should be proud of. For those of you who don't know me- I am the one tired of the silence. More of us need to speak up and let the world know that there are still "aboriginals in the bay".

For those of you who would like to read about the Mi'kmaq people, I recommend the following books:

True History books:

We Were not the Savages…………………………..written by Dr. Daniel Paul

Research books:

Where the sand Blows………………………………..written by Dorothy Anger

Beothuk and Micmac Notes………………………….written by Frank A. Speck

Newfoundland and its Untrodden Ways……………..written by J.G. Millaic

Children's books:

Muinji'j Becomes a Man ……………………………… Saqamaw Mi'sel Joe

Francie and the Basket Women …………………………………by Donald Gale

Compiled by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi'kmaq Researcher

Cape St. George, NL.


This article appeared in September 30, 2003 issue of The Georgian newspaper


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


Website Copyright © 2003 Jasen Benwah