Both sides now
Two new books reveal different aspects of Mi’kmaq life
Two books have recently appeared about the Mi’kmaq, and are worth reading.
One is called “Niniskamijinaqik: Ancestral Images”, subtitled “The Mi’kmaq in Art and Photography”.
It’s written by Ruth Holmes Whitehead, the renowned historian and ethnologist who has worked at the Nova Scotia Museum for over 40 years. Her latest book is a beautifully-produced hardcover from Nimbus, and available for $29.95.
The second book, “Debriefing Elsipogtog: The Anatomy of a Struggle” is by Miles Howe (Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, $24.95)
“Ancestral Images” surveys Mi’kmaq art, paintings and photos from before 1500 to 1980. The very first illustration depicts a humanoid figure trailing a fish, while an eight-pointed star, symbolic of the sun, and found nearby, carved possibly with a stone tool. All the others are cut with metal tools and thus date from sometime after 1500. Later we see the development of a distinctive costume, and its further disappearance as European dress was gradually adopted, first by men, much later by women.
The final illustrations portray scenes from a video called Mi’kmaq. It attempts to show what Mi’kmaq life may have been like around 1400. A good book for those interested in the evolution of costume, as well as those who wish to learn more about the native peoples.
Elsipogtog is the largest Mi’kmaq settlement in New Brunswick. Its recent history is typical of what has happened to native peoples all over the world - but with a difference. A Texasbased gas company, SWN for short, got permission from the provincial government to test for the possibility of extracting gas from Elsipogtog’s territory by fracking. They did not, of course, consult the Mi’kmaq or any of the other local inhabitants.
Four years later, in 2014,”...New Brunswick’s shale gas reserves were still largely unproven and unknown.” SWN became inactive in the province. The inhabitants of Elsipogtog were no better off than before, and opinions in their community were divided on the subject of fracking. No one seems to know what will happen next, if anything.
Everyone involved appears partly to blame for the whole business. This includes the government, the experts, the RCMP, who played an inglorious part, the non-native people living in the area and the Mi’kmaq themselves. There was double-dealing, lying, withholding vital information, and at least one good opportunity missed by the defenders of the community.
It’s a sad confusing story that, like an unhealed wound, may burst open again at any time. Well recounted by Miles Howe.