The Mi’kmaq on the island of Newfoundland seem to be going through something of a cultural revival; more and more people are recognizing their ancestral roots and learning about their past. The Mi’kmaq are perhaps best known in the province of Nova Scotia, but they have a long history of occupation on the island of Newfoundland according to documentary and oral history evidence.
“The earliest account of Mi’kmaq travel to Newfoundland dates from 1602. In the spring of that year, an English explorer named Bartholomew Gosnold encountered a Basque shallop manned by eight Indians somewhere off the New England coast. These Indians “…with a piece of Chalke described the Coast thereabouts, and could name Placentia of the New-found-land…” Gosnold does not identify the Indians, but it is likely that they were Mi’kmaqs, since no other mainland tribe (south of Labrador) lived so near to Newfoundland. If these Indians were not Mi’kmaqs, the argument for early Mi’kmaq knowledge of Newfoundland is in fact strengthened, since it is inconceivable that a more distant tribe would know of the island while the Mi’kmaqs remained in ignorance of it. A few years later, the great French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, observed that Indians from the mainland sometimes came over to the island to trade with European fishermen. In this instance, as well, the Indians in question were probably Mi’kmaqs, but cannot be identified as such with absolute confidence. However, in 1612, one Father Pierre Biard, a Jesuit missionary to the Mi’kmaqs, recorded that they had given the name “Presentic” to the island of Newfoundland. His account is the clearest indication yet found of Mi’kmaq familiarity with the island at the beginning of the 17th century” (Pastore 1978).
(Incidentally, Bartholomew Gosnold was instrumental in founding the Virginia Company of London, and Jamestown in colonial America. In 2003, archaeologists at Jamestown announced that they had uncovered a skeleton that they thought was Gosnold. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartholomew_Gosnold)
In 1989, Charles Martijn suggested that Cape Breton Island, southern Newfoundland, the Magdalen archipelago and the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon were a single post-contact period territorial range for the eastern Canadian Mi’kmaq. While there is no definitive proof that this situation existed in the pre-contact period, the Mi’kmaq believe that they did inhabit the Island of Newfoundland at least before the 18th century, referring to the early inhabitants as the Say’ewedjkik or Ancients (Martijn 1989:210-11 & Martijn 2003).
So, there is historic documentation and oral history evidence for the antiquity of the Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland, archaeologically, support for the historic and oral history evidence has yet to be found. Currently there are 21 known Mi’kmaq archaeology sites on the island. Most date to the early 19th century and there are a few from the 20th century. Despite several surveys on the south and west coasts of the island, earlier sites have not been found.
Two of the four surveys along the south and west coasts of the island were part of the work required for Masters Degrees, one was by Penney and the other was by Rast. Part of the express purpose for the Penney thesis was to look for Mi’kmaq sites. This thesis survey resulted in the discovery of 18 archaeology sites. Three of these sites had Mi’kmaq components, all were from the late historic period.
The Rast thesis resulted in the discovery of 26 new archaeological sites and the revisit of 11 previously known sites, several of which were found by Penney. None of the sites found or relocated by Rast contained Mi’kmaq evidence.
In 1993 and 1994, Penny carried out an archaeological survey of the south west coast of the island called the Katalisk Archaeological Survey. The survey had three objectives;
- to identify prehistoric and historic sites in Grand Codroy and Little Codroy river valleys;
- to instruct native post-secondary students in archaeological field survey methods; and,
- to raise community awareness of archaeology and Canada’s cultural heritage.
The Katalisk survey resulted in the discovery of 18 new archaeological sites, none of which were Mi’kmaq.
According to Speck, in the early 1900s he found both Beothuk and Mi’kmaq historic material culture at Wigwam Point in Badger.
In 2011, the author visited a reported unmarked Mi’kmaq cemetery near Kippens that was given a Borden number. The cemetery reportedly contained just over 30 burials and was next to impossible to distinguish. This cemetery was known locally but it is not known who is buried there beyond that the people were Mi’kmaq. There was little to no physical trace of the burials. In several places, we walked over small undulations in the ground. According to a former Mi’kmaq Band chief in the area, the Mi’kmaq did not bury their dead very deep and the burials were actually the rises under our feet and not the typical dips of settled burials. Despite it being hard to distinguish the burials, we were certain we were in the right location because of information provided by several informants including that the cemetery was fenced in during the 1970s and 80s. We were able to find traces of the fence.
Burnt Knaps is perhaps the best-known Mi’kmaq archaeological site on the island. It is an interior caribou hunting site, that was occupied by Conne River Mi’kmaqs during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is the first Mi’kmaq site excavated in Newfoundland, and provides information concerning traditional dwellings, diet, and lifestyles.
Penney also conducted and archaeological survey of King George IV Lake:
“A survey of the shorelines and hinterlands surrounding King George IV Lake resulted in discovery of two Mi’kmaq sites. A partial excavation of one site (DbBl-l) revealed two fireplace features (hearths) and associated stone and European (iron) artifacts. These features represent separate Recent Indian and Mi’kmaq occupations. Their temporal separation is uncertain, with the Mi’kmaq occupation dating to the first quarter of the 20th century. The Recent Indian feature possibly dates to the late prehistoric period.
A second site (DbBl-2) is a collapsed tmoqta’wi’kn (or square wigwam) used by Mi’kmaq hunters from Bay St. George in the 1940’s. From limited testing, site function appears as butchering and salting moose in barrels during the winter months” (Penney 1987).
Documentary and oral history evidence suggest the Mi’kmaq have been on the island for several centuries, perhaps going back to the precontact period. However, despite several archaeological surveys, the archaeological evidence does not support the documentary and oral history evidence. Obviously, further investigation is required to shed light on this matter.
Martijn, C. 1989 An Eastern Micmac Domain of Islands. In Actes Du Vingtiéme Congrés
des Algonquinistes, edited by W. Cowan, pp. 208-231. Carelton University,
2003 Early Mi’kmaq Presence in Southern Newfoundland: An Ethnological Perspective, c.1500-1763. Newfoundland Studies, 19(1): 44-101.
Pastore, Ralph 1978 Newfoundland Micmacs: A History of their Traditional Life. Newfoundland Historical Society Pamphlet No. 4.
Penney, Gerald 1985 The Prehistory of the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland. MA, MUN.
1994 Preliminary Report Katalisk Archaeological Survey 1993.
1995 Preliminary Report Katalisk Archaeological Survey 1994.
Penney, Gerald & Heather Nicol 1984 Burnt Knaps: A Micmac Site in Newfoundland. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 8(1): 57‑69, Ottawa.
Rast, Tim 1999 Investigating Palaeo-Eskimo and Indian Settlement Patterns Along a Submerging Coast at Burgeo, Newfoundland. MA, MUN.