An important aspect of Mi'kmaw culture is the head of its nation; the Mi'kmaw Grand Council.
Mi'kma'ki was divided into seven districts with a Mi'kmaw Captain representing each district. This was a form of government which existed prior to European contact. The Mi'kmaw nation was controlled by a Grand Council or Sante Mawio'mi, consisting of a Grand Chief, Grand Captain or Kji-Keptin, Putu's or Recorder and other members that were called the captains or captain, which were from the Mi'kmaw district communities. They always met in Chapel Island, even before a Chapel was established there in 1735. Meetings were scheduled by the Grand Chief, at the meetings they would discuss the past, present, and future. Where the best hunting grounds or fishing areas were, or who was sick, if the members of their area were at war with other nations, if their communities were increasing in population, everything was discussed among each member of the Grand Council. All meetings were recorded using the Wampum belt and it was read at each gathering.
[".. That as Mi'kmaq people we must do our own thing, we must be the masters of our own density."]
But in the seventies, no one took us seriously because it was only in August of 1973 that the Canadian government finally accepted the fact that Indians and aboriginal people across Canada had what is called "Aboriginal Right" - except for the Mi'kmaq of Eastern Canada. Because of a letter that came from the then Minister of Indian Affairs, and now the Prime Minister of this country. He said that Eastern Canada and the Maritimes were of a different character; that our land was superseded by law. Because of the fact that Miíkmaq people were always the ones that sent decision makers to these tripartite meetings and the other parties didn't, we had no alternative but to fold tripartite negotiations or process. In the eighties we saw a monumental change for the inherent and legal recognition of Mi'kmaq jurisdiction; we did [unclear] of sections twenty-five and thirty-five of the new constitutional act of '82. Constitutional protection elevated the responsibilities of both the federal and provincial governments toward Mi'kmaq issues. The 1985 Simon case brought the treaty entitlements to the legal framework of the tripartite relationships. In 1928, our late Grand Chief Sylliboy wanted to use our treaty to help him in his trapping charges and lost. I am not a lawyer but I feel the reason why our treaties that our forefathers signed are so complicated in the legal framework is that they about the only treaties signed at that period and time by the British crown without having even one half square inch of any land ceded.
The Alliance between the Mi'kmaw and European nation in the form of the treaties began in 1610. That year alliance was found with the holy seed, the pope, at Annapolis Royal. To signify their intentions, Grand Chief Membertou and his family were baptised as Catholics. From 1725 to 1794 treaties with the British were signed in each district of Mi'kamawki. These treaties are part of what the British called "The Covenant Chain of Treaties". Today we celebrate Treaty Day of 1752 on October first of each year. This celebration and renewal is dedicated to the 1752 treaty. Treaty day was proclaimed as a Mi'kmaw holiday by the late Grand Chief Donald Marshall in 1986.
The Miíkmaw nation wrote on a Wampum belt that the treaty with the Holy Seed and British. Mr. Joe B. Marshall will explain the reading of the Wampum belt.
These treaties which sovereign was so concerned should not ever be violated have not veered so well since they were signed. However they are not the only alliances ever made by the Mi'kmaw. Other states here in North America and in Europe were connected with the Mi'kmaw by compacts of peace, friendship and protection. Perhaps the earliest compact with a European state was one with the Holy Seed. Such a compact or concordat was concluded in Port Royal in June of 1610. This agreement was one of mutual protection and amity. Mi'kmaw acceptance of this concordat and commitment to the compact was symbolised by the baptism of Grand Chief Membertou and his family. Membertou also promised that he would bring the other Mi'kmaw to be baptised. The terms of that Mi'kmaw concordat were placed on a belt of woven coloured beads made from the shells of mussels and co hogs. Such belts were commonly used by the Mi'kmaw and their aboriginal allies. They were also used for record keeping and the meanings of the symbols in the Mi'kmaw concordat were described in a mask for the installation of a Grand Chief and were preserved in a Mi'kmaw catechism. The symbols that are on the Mi'kmaw concordat, a sketch of that concordat is shown on the treaty day program that was being passed around yesterday. And the first symbol on that belt is of the church with an open door that represents that Vaticanís promise that Mi'kmaw would have a choice to accept or reject Catholicism. The church or Rome... concordat was granted access to Miíkmaw... the keys of Saint Peter represent the Holy Seed's protection of the Mi'kmaq nation. At the centre of the belt are two figures that represent a Mi'kmaq and a robed priest; the priest figure represents Rome and the Mi'kmaw represents the Grand Chief. Other symbols on the priest's side of the belt represent the emanating words from the apostles and the apostles themselves, who are symbolized by twelve squares on that end of the belt. On the Mi'kmaw side of the belt, are represented the seven districts which would maintain a peaceful alliance and that was symbolised by a [unclear] shown on the belt. With all their might which is symbolised by a battle axe, the hunter with a bow represents the Mi'kmaw concept of prosperity and sharing. The jagged line that is shown on the belt represents the seven districts of Mi'kmawki who would share the words of Christ with the others and like the crossed spears that are shown on the belt, would plant wisdom, truth and forgiveness of Christ to other Mi'kmaw. Throughout all these years the Mi'kmaw have remained faithful to the compact made with the Holy Seed. Each time a Mi'kmaw child is born, the alliance is renewed at the child's baptism ceremony. During the time of Nova Scotia's history, while it was a colony, when catholic priests were not allowed in the colony, the Mi'kmaw people helped to keep Catholicism alive by requesting and obtaining a priest from the British governors. The Mi'kmaw concordat is still held Sacred by the Sante Mawio'mi and almost all of the Mi'kmaw. What we find disappointing in all of this is that the Roman Catholic Church did not make any attempts to [purge] the abuses committed against our nation and its people by the government of Canada. As a matter of fact, many of the abuses were committed by the clergy at Canada's residential schools. Every Mi'kmaw suffered; the victims, their families, the whole nation. The Catholic clergy also co-operated with the government in its policies of cultural genocide. When the government set up schools on the Indian reserves, it was there that many of the responsibilities held by the Mi'kmaw elders, who were our teachers, were assumed by priests and other clergy. The rules of the Catholic Church were imposed and these replaced the proven methods of Mi'kmaw teaching and societal control. And all of this was done in the guise of civilizing the Mi'kmaw. To date there has been no formal admission of responsibility by the Catholic Church for assisting in much of the eradication of our language, customs, and traditions. Much of what has been lost will never be recovered. With each succeeding generation of Mi'kmaw the damage continues to increase. Many of our people that suffered physical, psychological, and emotional abuses will die without ever experiencing the relief of healing. The Sante Mawio'mi will continue the struggle for reconciliation with the church.
Even today the Mi'kmaw Grand Council are still negotiating with the federal and provincial governments for the Mi'kmaw nation. Also, they have selected a young Mi'kmaw person, Charles Jr. Bernard, to be their reprehensive at the United Nation.
Mi'kmaw people are the first to be recognised by the United Nation as a nation. Charles Jr. Bernard has been training with the Grand Council to be a spokes person for the Mi'kmaw nation. The Grand Council are the true governmental leaders for the Mi'kmaw people. They are to be known as the first Mi'kmaw government before any assimilation done by the British Government. Mr. Charles Bernard shares his vision about the Mi'kmaw government:
"Mi'kmaw government, the way I see it, when the treaties were signed between our people and the governments of Great Britain back then, with the treaties, I think that's where Mi'kmaw government was recognised; under the treaties. Mi'kmaw government always has existed here in Canada, what is known as Canada today. But particularly here in Nova Scotia, the five most eastern provinces; Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland and that's what he know as Mi'kmawkik, which is the traditional name of the government Mi'kmaw played a role in. And the Mi'kmaw government, which is traditional government, the Grand Chief, who is Ben Sylliboy today and Grand Captain Denny of the Grand Council and Charley Herney, who is the patuis, or the treaty holder. Those three are the executives and then they have the captain which represent each district. The old government used to be seven districts in the eastern - Atlantic provinces and there's about 27 - 29 captains in the Grand Council now and each member is added one at a time as the Grand Chief and the Grand Captain decide whether they need a representative from whatever district. But they occupy this land and traditionally they have always occupied this land and that's their form of government, and they govern our people, whatever district that they come from and I would say that's equal to the government of Canada, which is for instance the Prime Minster, the Deputy Prime Minster and the Ministers of the Cabinet and the Ministers of the Day. That's how I see it. And when treaties were signed with the first settlers there was representatives of a nation from Great Britain and that's where it all started. And It leads down in history to when Canada became a nation itself in 1867 and then legislation came in they proposed an Indian Act to legislate all the Indians in Canada. I think that's where the traditional government was lost. But it's coming back right now; it has gone from federal government to federal [unclear], like the Indian act, to the department of Indian Affairs, which is body which organises Indians under the Indian act. And then you have your provincial government and then you have your municipal governments. You have your band councils today and I think that's where it stands right now. The band councils legislated by the Indian act and the municipality is legislated by the constitution of Canada. I think that's where everything falls under. Right now.
When I was nine I remember going to town with my dad, he had been ill and to the Indian Agent we went. Today I realise he took me along to prove he had a child. At the time, in the forties, severity was met. The man gave us a piece of paper with his 'X' as an official. We took it to the store for basic essentials
When I was twelve I put myself in the residential school, three men of all possibilities of knowledge ruled. The reality was there. But, oh what a price to pay. My shadow now in circles, the values in confusion lay. They may have thought what they were doing was right. To be like others, grass roots must give sight
Today in my age of mine, my leaders I still see. The thought is arrested there, priorities free.
By now the blinders must be removed, the sod turned, the grass will then turn green.
We must mind our own.
To me, like all others the grass roots must give sight.
I am tired of the government.