Monday, October 20, 2014

Celebrating Mi'kmaq History Month

an article i did for the chronicle herald

By Jon Tattrie

Nova Scotians are celebrating Mi’kmaq History Month this October, but organizers say the event faces major challenges if it hopes to grow in the coming years.

Tim Bernard of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq says the celebratory month started in 1993 when the province “finally realized we should do something to promote Mi’kmaq history and culture. That was a big step.”

But Bernard says funding fluctuates, meaning the event grows and shrinks. Organizers are in the second year of developing a long-term plan to move the month forward.

“We’ve recognized a need for Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia to embrace Mi’kmaq History Month,” he says. “After twenty years, nobody was embracing the month to the degree that we should 

There are cultural challenges, too. Bernard’s father, for example, did some time at the Shubenacadie Residential School, where he and others were punished if they spoke Mi’kmaw, and were taught to be ashamed of their culture.  

After 540 generations of handing the language and culture into the future, it was shattered in one generation. Tim Bernard didn’t learn his own language. He says inter-generational wounds like that need time to heal.

“It’s about communities celebrating, first. We’ve been deprived for a long period of time. We want to make sure our own communities are feeling good about celebrating Mi’kmaq History Month – the pride – and making sure we’re ready first before we can begin celebrating with the outside cultures,” he says.

He draws inspiration from recent successes in expanding Mi’kmaq presence in the province. Millbrook First Nation recently got a sign on Highway 102, and he hopes others will also get on the signs.  Other communities are returning to their traditional names, such as Sipekne'katik First Nation, Potlotek First Nation and Paq’tnkek Mi’kmaw Nation

Bernard points to Melody Martin-Googoo, who won an Excellence in Teaching Award in Truro this year for bringing a Mi’kmaq language class to Truro Junior High, and the planned Mi’kmawey-Debert Cultural Centre, based around the 13,000-year-old archeological site. “It is our intention to tell our own history through a Mi’kmaw lens,” he says. “There’s been a cultural disconnect, there’s been disruption in our history and our culture.

“We’re just trying to make Mi’kmaw culture a little more visible. Or a lot more visible, but we have to take little steps at a time.”

Treaty Rights benefit all

It’s a message Ben Sichel hears clearly. The Dartmouth-based teacher is white, but he says that’s all the more reason to celebrate events like Treaty Day.

“There's a common perception in Canada today that treaties and treaty rights, such as the hunting and fishing rights many people are familiar with, are just a 'native thing.' But the rights thought of as Aboriginal treaty rights today were obtained in exchange for the British being allowed to live peacefully on the land the Mi'kmaq had lived on for centuries,” he says.

“The British, and all other non-native folks who've lived on this land since the British took it over, have enjoyed that treaty right ever since. The Mi'kmaq were supposed to be able to enjoy that right as well.”

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