Traditional Mi’kmaq Teachings
Here we will attempt, to the best of our ability, to pass on traditional Mi’kmaq Teachings.
Spirituality is the belief in the existence of something beyond this physical world. Belief in the oneness or interconnectedness of everything in the universe and the spirit world. The practise of rituals that facilitate this connection and provide a means of communicating our thoughts and feelings to the spirit world and to a higher power, the source, God, the Creator, the Great Spirit, whatever you want to call it. Ultimately, spirituality is the search for our true identity, our inner selves.
Mi’kmaq Spirituality formed the very essence of being for the Mi’kmaq People. It was an integral part of their everyday living. Everything they did, every action, was interwoven with their spirituality.
Prior to European Contact, the Mi’kmaq Nation was a Nation that was rich with customs, traditions and native spirituality. Traditionally, the Mi’kmaq believed the following:
All life was created by one all powerful being, the Creator, who governed the Mi’kmaq and the Land.
All living things have a spirit, a soul, not just mankind. The Mi’kmaq never considered themselves superior to other life forms, since people, animals, trees, flowers, grass, mountains, the sun, the moon, the oceans, everything in the universe was believed to be created equal.
The Mi’kmaq also believed in the inter-connectedness of everything in the universe and beyond. This resulted in a tremendous respect for everything in nature. Nothing was taken for granted. Prayers and tobacco offerings were made every time an animal was killed, a tree was cut down, or rocks were taken to be used for the Sacred Fire or Sweatlodge or to create a Medicine Wheel.
From the first contact with Europeans, the spiritual beliefs and practices of Mi’kmaq People were incorrectly interpreted by outsiders. Europeans assumed that native people were pagan or heathen practicing no form of religion. The Mi’kmaq, however, practiced a spirituality that was reflected in every aspect of their daily lives.
Immediately following the arrival of Jacques Cartier, French Explorer, in 1534, to the shores of what is now Nova Scotia, came Roman Catholic Missionaries who sought to teach the Mi’kmaq their way and thus convert the Mi’kmaq People to the Roman Catholic religion.
The Mi’kmaq formed an alliance with the French and as a sign of good faith, one of the great leaders of the Mi’kmaq People, Chief Henri Membertou, in the early 1600’s made the historical decision to be baptized into the Roman Catholic Faith.
On June 24, 1610, Grand Chief Membertou and twenty-one members of his family were baptized. Following the baptism of Membertou, thousands of his people were baptized and thus by the end of the 18th century virtually all Mi’kmaq had been baptized Roman Catholic. In time many Mi’kmaq became such devout Roman Catholics that their own spiritual practices were lost to them. Their spirituality, however, because it was inherent within themselves could not be taken away.
Certain Elders and Spiritual People realized the importance of preserving Mi’kmaq Spiritual Practices and these special groups such as the Grand Medicine Society and the Seven Fires Society passed along Birch Bark Scroll Teachings. There are many oral teachings, symbols, stories, history, and wisdom that were passed along and preserved from one generation to the next by these groups.
These Teaching Scrolls were called “Mide-wiigwas” or “Medicine Birch Bark Scrolls”. Early accounts from books written in the 1800’s describe a group of Elders that protected the Birch Bark Scrolls in hidden locations. They recopied the scrolls if any were badly damaged and they preserved them underground. These scrolls were described as very sacred.
So it was that the spiritual teachings of the Mi’kmaq and other First Nations were preserved and passed down to present day.
Sources: Resource Manual (Federation of Newfoundland Indians), Brochures Conne River Group, The Internet, Spiritual Teachers and Leaders: Chief Misel Joe, Graham Tuplin, George Paul, Victor Muise Jr., Donna Augustine, Maggie Paul, Deanna Francis, Tammy Drew, Gary Knockwood, Don Caplin, Albert Jackpine, and Kelly Drew.