Canadian Thanksgiving: A short history lesson on the Mi’kmaq

Before the great North American landscape was “discovered” by fellows like John Cabot, Jacques Cartier or other European colonizers, this bountiful land which we celebrate on Thanksgiving was the home of fish. Make that, is the home of fish. Fish, who as Dr. Leroy Little Bear states, are older than the dinosaurs and we cannot imagine the inherent wisdom they carry with them. Our countries’ fish has been caught in Miꞌkmaꞌki, the territory of the Mi’kmaq peoples (pronounced meeg maw) since before any other person whose name we readily recognize.

It should be well-known that the European settlers’ survival was dependent on the help of the Mi’kmaq, who taught them how to find healthy and sustainable food, such as Vitamin C rich berries and cedar. 

More importantly, the Mi’kmaq taught them how to fish. During the winter, it is this knowledge that vastly assisted the new comers as they were able to learn how to ice-fish using the skillful techniques of those from our land.  This knowledge was given to away to aide, not to harm. 

However incoming French colonists gave the Mi’kmaq plagues, Christian conversions, treaty violations and war. 

In 1749, the Scalp Proclamation was introduced by Governor Edward Cornwallis, who began offering bounties for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women and children. This program was designed to eliminate the Mi’kmaq population of Nova Scotia, by genocide or forced emigration.

The proclamation was revoked in 1752, but was reintroduced by Nova Scotia Governor Charles Lawrence with the Scalp Proclamation of 1756. This offered a bounty for the scalp or every live male prisoner over 16 and lesser but equal bounties for women and children prisoners.

As the past can predict the future, decades later there is still conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Nova Scotia over a Lobster fishery. In mid-September, commercial fishers began to protest Mi’kmaq fishing claiming they were violating laws by fishing out of season. Non-Indigenous people responded with threats, vandalization of equipment, attempts to block boats as well as setting boats on fire, cutting and removing traps from the water and gathering in front of a Mi’kmaq lobster buyer’s house for intimidation purposes.

The Mi’kmaq people are not violating any law applicable to them and are exercising their treaty rights from a 1999 Supreme Court decision that affirmed their right to fish to make a “moderate livelihood” regardless of the off-season rules established by the federal government.

It is our duty as Canadians to honour the Indigenous peoples of Canada, who gave all of us our legacy here on this land, by supporting this petition for them to fish as is their right.  

We must support the treaties put in place to protect them. We must learn and celebrate their history, preserve and promote their culture, and work towards reconciliation.

Please sign the petition below to help protect the Mi’kmaq peoples right to fish.

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Tags: #Mi’kmaqNation #CanadianThanksgiving #CanadianHistory