Both sides now

Two new books re­veal dif­fer­ent aspects of Mi’kmaq life

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - El­iz­a­beth Cran El­iz­a­beth Cran is a free­lance writer who writes a book re­view col­umn for The Guardian. To com­ment or to send her books to re­view, write her at her new ad­dress: 95 Or­ange St., Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-6935498.

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.

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