A self-introduction from the author:
My name is Michael McDonald, and I am from Sipekne'katik
First Nation. I graduate from law school next month. I have
two undergrads: one with a major in Mi'kmaq Studies at CBU,
and Sociology and Criminology with minor In Anthropology at
St Mary's University, as well as the Native Studies Program
at St Thomas University!
As you can see I am very educated, but much of my teachings
come from the elders. When I was a kid I was fascinated with
being Mi'kmaq! During my early years we lived in Boston and
even though my father sent us to the Boston Indian Center
all the time I wasn't exposed to my culture as much. So when
we moved to the reserve when I was eleven, I would spend a
lot of time with elders who were born in the late 1800's and
early 1900's, soaking in much of their knowledge as I could!
I couldn't get enough - I needed to know everything!
Now that I have education behind me, and after spending
years of researching, I am trying to share my knowledge so
others can pass on what was told to me and what I have
All content on this page © Michael McDonald
History of Halifax - A
Halifax is known to Mi’kmaq as
Chebucto “Kjipuktuk”(1) or “Great Habour”. A number of Mi’kmaq
Clans held permanent villages in Kjipuktuk. The Mi’kmaq of
Kjipuktuk took advantage of the coves in the harbour since they
offered protection from the elements, a place to beach canoes,
and a constant supply of fresh water from the streams flowing
down from one of many lakes nearby.(2) There was also a wide
diversity of marine life in this area that provided food all
year round, especially large marine mammals such as grey seals,
harbour seals and even Atlantic walruses were plentiful.(3)
Mi’kmaq territory was split
into seven Districts. The seven Districts were known as: Kespukwitk,
Sipeknékatik, Eskíkewaq, Unamákik, Piktuk aqq Epekwitk,
Sikniktewaq, and Kespékewaq. Kjipuktuk was located in the
Sipekne’katik District. The District of Sipekne’katik in English
is translated to the "ground nut place” or “place of the ground
nut". The word for ground nut in Mi’kmaq is “Sipekne’”.
Mi’kmaq lived in family groups comprised of a number of families
that were usually connected by kinship.(4) These groups would make
up a Clan and each Clan was represented by elders and a local Sakamow (chief).(5)
Local Clans were interconnected
through kinship ties and blood relations. These interconnected
Clans all shared a specific territory known as a District.(6) Each
District held boundaries that were expected to be maintained by
the Chiefs of each Clan with the assistance of war captains.
Each District also had a head Sakamow known as a “Nikanus” or
District Chief, and all seven Districts were represented by one
“Kji'saqmaw” or Grand Chief. (7)
The territory of the local Sakamow
seems to have been coextensive with the area occupied by the
inhabitants of a single village.(8) There were three Clan Sakamows
in Kjipuktuk with a population thought to be around 400 to 600
Mi’kmaq by the early to middle 1700’s. Considering
anthropological evidence in other areas and the plentiful food
supply in Kjipuktuk the population was probably in the 2000
range. Along the southeastern bank of the St. Croix River in St.
Croix, Hants County there is evidence that there was a large
permanent Mi’kmaq village that supported well over 500 and
possibly 1000 Mi’kmaq at any given time.(9) The main sources
of food on this river were eel and gaspereau. Considering the large
amount of fish and marine life in Kjipuktuk the Mi’kmaq
population would have been much larger at the time of contact.
During the 1500’s it was common knowledge among fishing vessels
to avoid entering Kjipuktuk because the Mi’kmaq would attack any
outsiders entering the basin. In his memoirs, Monsieur Samuel De
Champlain wrote that he avoided going near Kjipuktuk even though
he identifies it on his maps as Baye Saine or Healthy Harbour.(10)
The islands located at the mouth of the Harbour were known to
the French as Les Martyres where a number of French sailors were
killed by the Mi’kmaq of Kjipuktuk. Any ship entering would be
met by over 400 warriors in canoes who would immediately attack
the unexpected ships. Many of the ships that entered Kjipuktuk
during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s were never seen again.
By the mid-1600’s European sailors and fisherman avoided
Kjipuktuk all together. So the exact number of Mi’kmaq in
Kjipuktuk during these early years is unknown.
There were also two smaller
villages recognized, one in North West Arm (Horseshoe Island)
and the other located near the Narrows (Tufts Cove).
The area of downtown Halifax up to Point Pleasant Park was known
to the Mi'kmaq as “Amntu'kati”(11), which in English means,
“spirit place” or “the place of spirits”.(12) Every year since
time immemorial the Mi’kmaq from all over Mi’kma’kik would come
and gathered at Amntu’kati for 7 days after the first full
moon during "Tquoluiku," “the frog croaking month” in the
spring.(13) This is why the Mi’kmaq protected Kjipuktuk so
With the increase of European
fishing boats anchoring along the shore lines of Mi’kma’kik,
contact with Mi’kmaq increased. These early contacts had a
devastated consequence on Mi’kmaq population since the Mi’kmaq
had no initial immunities to the diseases brought to them by
early contact.(14) As a result of these early contacts the Mi’kmaq
numbers in Kjipuktuk slowly decreases and they could not protect
Amntu’kati like they once did.
In 1746, the Mi’kmaq of
Kjipuktuk, along with hundreds of warriors from the Sipekne’katik District and
neighbouring districts along with
over a dozen Chief’s waited for Duc d’Anville's fleet of over 70
ships bringing supplies of arms, ammunition, along with over a
1000 soldiers to fight the English.(15) Before departing France
some of the crewmen on those ships had been infected by European-borne
viruses and illness. Fuelled by the crowded, unsanitary
conditions, along with poor food, and polluted water on the
ships, many died on route from a deadly combination of scurvy,
typhus, and typhoid.(16) By the time 40 ships of the original 70
arrived a large number had perished. The Mi’kmaq of Kjipuktuk
and the warriors of Sipekne’katik were expecting ammunition and
supplies but instead they were greeted by an armada of death and
destruction. Hundreds of Mi'kmaq died in Kjipuktuk, oral
traditional accounts state the numbers of Mi’kmaq deaths were
well over 1000. They were buried along with over 1000 French
sailors and soldiers in two mass graves.(17) The ones that
survived spread the deadly combination of scurvy, typhus, and
typhoid all across Mi’kma’kik, which ended up killing over
one-third of the entire Mi’kmaq population.(18)
Mi’kmaq oral tradition records
the catastrophe that decimated their numbers. Many died on their
traditional camping grounds, where they were quickly buried. The
Mi’kmaq called the disease “the black measles,” even naming one
of their camping areas “Iktuk’maqtawe’g’aluso’l”, the “place of
the black measles.”(19) Before the arrival of English settlers,
the Mi’kmaq camped in the sheltered coves around Kjipuktuk and
Bedford Basin. One such cove, Birch Cove, was used as a
semi-permanent camp by four or five families. As a base for
resource extraction, Birch Cove was perfectly situated and the
upper cove an ideal camp site.
The Mi’kmaq people were well
organized with highly complex social and political structure and
prepared to defend their District at any cost. If Duc d’Anville's
fleet never brought with them an armada of deadly disease and
illness to Kjipuktuk in 1746, Cornwallis would have never been
able to settle there only three years later. Especially considering
as previously noted, this area was highly sacred to the Mi’kmaq
of Sipekne’katik (20)
The English first settled in
Halifax on June 14, 1749.(21) This enraged the Mi’kmaq. The spot
where they built their settlement was sacred land to the
Mi’kmaq. On August 14, 1749, Cornwallis called for a meeting
with the Mi’kmaq and neighbouring Tribes.(22) It was crucial for
the English to sign a Treaty with the Mi’kmaq especially with
the Mi’kmaq of Cape Sable Island. The English needed a treaty to
end the hostilities in Annapolis Royal and the constant attacks
at English settlements in Maine and New England.(23) However,
Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik refuse to come to this meeting, instead
the Chiefs and Elders of Sipekne’katik drafted a letter to
Cornwallis expressing their anger over the English settlement in
Kjipuktuk, and in doing so the Mi’kmaq were asserting their
rights to their lands.(24)
The letter in part to
Cornwallis stated: "The place where you are, where you are
building dwellings, where you are now building a fort, where you
want, as it were, to enthrone yourself, this land of which you
wish to make yourself now absolute master, this land belongs to
me. I have come from it as certainly as the grass, it is the
very place of my birth and of my dwelling, this land belongs to
me the Mi'kmaq (L'nuk), yes I swear, it is God (Niskam) who has
given it to me to be my country forever... Show me where the
Mi’kmaq (L'nuk) will lodge? You drive me out; where do you want
me to take refuge? You have taken almost all this land in all
its extent. Nothing remains to me except Kchibouktouk (Kjipuktuk).
You envy me even this morsel... Your residence at Port Royal does
not cause me great anger because you see that I have left you
there at peace for a long time, but now you force me to speak
out by the great theft you have perpetrated against me."(25)
Cornwallis refused to accept the
Mi’kmaq claims to Kjipuktuk, so the Halifax settlement remained.
In September, less than a month after Cornwallis received the
letter, the Mi’kmaq started attacking the settlement of
Halifax.(26) These attacks on the Halifax settlement
were a clear
message to Cornwallis that this land belonged to the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik. Even more so, the Mi’kmaq had already previously
warned the English in 1720, that they will attack anyone who
settled in their land without their consent.
On October of 1720, three
Chiefs, including the District Chief of Sipekne’katik, met with the
French in Les Minas. The Chiefs included Chief of Pisiguit,
Minas, and Shubenacadie. The Chiefs requested the French to
draft a letter for them and have it sent to Governor Richard
Phillips stationed at the English Garrison in Annapolis. The
letter was a warning to the English to stay in Annapolis and
stay out of Mi’kmaq lands in Sipekne’katik. The contents of the
letter in part stated: “We believe Niskum “God” gave us these
lands. However, we see you want to drive us from the place where
you are living (Annapolis), and you threaten to reduce us to
your servitude… we are our own masters and not subordinate to
anyone… we do not want English living in our lands (District of Sipekne’katik). The land we hold only from God. We will dispute
with all men who want to live here without our consent(27).”
After receiving the letter in
Annapolis, the English kept entering Sipekne’katik territory. So
in keeping with their warning the Mi’kmaq started repeatedly
attacking the English. From 1722 to 1726 the Mi’kmaq attacked
and destroyed over 100 English ships.(28) After suffering many
losses, the lieutenant-Governor of Annapolis, Captain John
Doucett, wanted to make peace with the Mi’kmaq so finally a
“Peace and Friendship” treaty was signed in 1726.(29)
However, Cornwallis did not heed the warnings, nor did the
English want to accept Mi’kmaq sovereignty over their sacred
lands of Kjipuktuk, so in response to the Mi’kmaq attacks on the
Halifax settlement Cornwallis gave the order for all his
military under his power, to attack and kill any Mi’kmaq on
sight.(30) The date of this order was October 01, 1749.(31)
Cornwallis included a bounty of 10 Guineas for every Mi’kmaq
scalp produced to commanding officers at Annapolis, Minas and
Skirmishes between the Mi’kmaq
of Sipekne’katik and English continued for three years. The
Mi’kmaq responded by declaring war on the English. So the
Mi’kmaq started launching a series of destructive attacks
against Protestant settlers in the Halifax area.(33) Eventually
Cornwallis was forced to resign in failure and was replaced by
Governor Peregrine Thomas Hopson in August 1752. One of his
first priorities was to make peace with the Mi’kmaq. Governor
Hopson sent messages to the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik that the
English wished to make peace, and lifted the bounty Cornwallis had
out for Mi’kmaq scalps.(34) What is most interesting is the
response received by Hopson from the District Chief of
Sipekne’katik, Chief Cope. Chief Cope felt that the Mi’kmaq of
Sipekne’katik should be compensated for the lands settled in
their district. Chief Cope stated: "the Indians should be paid
for the land the English had settled upon in this country."(35)
These words are clearly demonstrating Mi’kmaq assertion of
title, especially when they are asking for compensation.
Although the Council did not address Chief Cope's proposal for
monetary compensation for the lands settled on by the English,
they did recognize the lands still controlled by the Mi’kmaq as
their own lands by the words written in the treaty. “We will not
suffer that you be hindered from Hunting, or Fishing in this
Country, as you have been used to do, and if you shall think fit
to settle your wives and children upon the River Shibenaccadie,
no person shall hinder it, nor shall meddle with the lands where
Although the Mi’kmaq signed a
treaty of Peace and Friendship with the English settlers,
Kjiputuk, the Great Harbour will always hold a significant value
to the Mi’kmaq people since it truly is Amntu'kati – the place
1 French wrote it as Chebucto,
for the Mi’kmaq word “Kjipuktuk” which means great harbour.
2 Ingalls, Sharon and Wayne. “Sweet Suburb: A History of
Prince’s Lodge, Birch Cove and Rockingham”. Glen Margaret
Pub,Publishing, 2010, 1st Edition, 1st Printing 2010 at p 11.
3 Hoffman, Bernard, “Historical Ethnography of the Micmac of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”, PhD dissertation, Berkley:
University of California, 1955 at 533. The district
Sipekne’katik, "ground nut place" consisted of the modem day
counties of Colchester, Hants, Kings, Halifax and Lunenburg.
4 Nietfeld, P K L 1981 “Determinants of Aboriginal Micmac
Political Structure.” Albuquerque, New Mexico: Unpublished Ph.D.
dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of New
Mexico at p 466.
5 Wicken,William C., Thesis: Encounter with Tall Sails and Tall
Tales: Mi’kmaq Society,1500-1760, McGill University, 1994 at p
6 Saqamawutis for the area of the District Chief. or
when speaking to another Mi'kmaq in stating which district you
are from, you would use the word Kmitkinu or L'nu wutan as to
describe the district of your village is in, Maqamigal, which
mean lands, territories.
7 Miller, Virginia P., “Social and political complexity on the
East Coast: the Micmac Case”, Ron Nash, ed, The Evoloution of
Maritime Cultures on the Northeast and Northwest Coasts of
America, Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, 1983, Dept of
Anthropology Publication no 11 at p 47.
9 Halwas, Sara. 2006. MA Archaeology, entitled: “Where the Wild
Tings Grow: A Palaeoethnobotanical Study of Late Woodland Plant
Use at Clam Cove”, Nova Scotia.
10 Champlain, Samuel de. (2013). pp. 114-5. Voyages of Samuel de
Champlain: 1604-1618. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work
11 Amntu'kati, which is a spirit place or the place of spirits,
on the other side of Point Pleasant park there is a small cove
that is protected by the rough seas, it is Wejkwe'tukwaqn which
means to come to a legend, or where the legend comes from, it is
the place where Mi’kmaq Legendary Warrior Amntu' resides at his
Lodge and Guards the Eastern Door to protect the Lnu'k, the
people from any dangers that come from the open sea.
12 Byrd Awalt speaks of this in his essay from multiple sources,
including oral, however Byrd Mi’kmaq was slightly off. Don
(Byrd) Awalt “The Mi’kmaq and Point Pleasant Park An Historical
Essay in Progress,” Halifax, NS at p 2.
13 Akins, Thomas B. “History of Halifax City”; Murdoch, Beamish.
“History of Nova Scotia or Acadie, in 3 Volumes”; Raddall,
Thomas H. “Halifax, Warden of the North.”
14 Bourque, Bruce J, Twelve Thousand Years, American Indians in
Maine, University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
15 Clowes, History of the Royal Navy, 3: 116-117; Douglas, 'Nova
Scotia and the Royal Navy', 116-130;
Graham, Empire of the North Atlantic, 132-134; Jenkins, History
of the French Navy, 113-114.
16 James Pritchard. “Anatomy of a Naval Disaster: The 1746
French Expedition to North America.” Montreal and Kingston:
McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995 at p 143.
17 Thomas Chandler Haliburton, in Ruth Holmes Whitehead, The Old
Man Told Us: Excerpts from Micmac History, 1500-1950 (Halifax:
Nimbus Publishing, 1991) at 108 [Old Man Told Us].
19 Ingalls, Sharon and Wayne. “Sweet Suburb: A History of
Prince’s Lodge, Birch Cove and Rockingham”. Glen Margaret
Pub,Publishing, 2010, 1st Edition, 1st Printing 2010 at 14
20 Halifax Peninsula where , if you follow the Halifax Peninsula
around it comes to a small cove that is protected by the rough
seas what is now referred to has the Armdale Rotary, it is
called Wejkwe'tukwaqn which means “to come to a legend”, or
“where the legend comes from”, it is the place where our
Legendary Warrior Amntu' resides at his Lodge (Amntu'apsi’kan or
“Sprit Lodge”) and guards the Eastern Door to protect the Lnu'k,
“the people” from any dangers that come from the open sea.
21 Akins, Thomas Beamish, “History of Halifax City, Collections
of the Nova Scotia Historical Society for the years 1892-1894”,
v.8, Halifax: Morning Herald Printing and Publishing, 1895.
23 : O’neill, Dianne, curator, At the Great Harbour: 250 Years
on the Halifax Waterfront, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1995
25 A. J. B. Johnston, Endgame 1758: The Promise, the Glory and
the Despair of Louisbourg’s Last Decade (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 2007 at p 24.
26 O’neill, Dianne, curator, At the Great Harbour: 250 Years on
the Halifax Waterfront, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1995.
27 A. J. B. Johnston, Endgame 1758: The Promise, the Glory and
the Despair of Louisbourg’s Last Decade (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 2007 at p 39 [Endgame]. (Pisiguit derived from
the Mi’kmaq word Pesaquid, meaning "Junction of Waters".)
28 The Micmac, supra note 45, at p 364.
29 Fergusson, Charles Bruce, John Doucett, Dalhousie University,
30 Akins, Thomas B., Selections from the Public Documents of the
Province of Nova Scotia, Resolution of the House of Assembly,
32 Endgame, supra note 22, at p 40.
33 John Mack Faragher, A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic
Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their
American Homeland (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005) at p
34 Haliburton, History of Nova Scotia, vol. 1, p. 317; Brebner,
New England's Outpost, p. 186.
35 Akins, Public Documents of Nova Scotia, p. 671. Council
Minutes, Halifax, 14 September 1752 at p 671.
36 Akins, Public Documents of
Nova Scotia, p. 673. Council Minutes, Halifax, 16 September,
1752 at p 673.