Politically, the Mi'kmaq were a loose confederacy bound together through a common system of matrilineal clans. For the most part, clans (or bands) were independent with their own chiefs and ceremonies, a system which has been remained largely in place to the present day.

The Mi'kmaq had a matriarchal society, where the eldest women in the group had the greatest influence. As lifegivers, women were deeply respected, and their wisdom was recognized as being of highest importance when vital decisions were to be made. Thus, the Grandmothers, with their vast experience and knowledge, were listened to with great respect by all members of the family, clan, or district. In the end, the decision was made by the entire group, but never without consulting the matriarchs. 

However, it was the men in their role of protector who interacted with other groups. The most respected warriors and providers (as determined by the Grandmothers) became a chief, or saqamaw, and this was generally passed on in a hereditary manner from father to son. Other elder males became members of the chief's council. The chief and council were the final authority regarding routine decisions about hunting and fishing territories and other such matters, but referred to the Grandmothers for council regarding decisions that affected the course of the nations. When the Europeans arrived, since they always dealt with the men, they understandably mis-interpreted this to mean that the Mi'kmaq were patriarchal.

Mi'kmaki, or the Mi’kmaw territory, was divided into seven districts: Kespukwitk (Land's End), Sikepne'katik (Wild Potato Area), Eski'kewaq (Skin Dresser's Area), Unama'kik (Land of Fog), Epekwitk aqq Piktuk (Lying in the Water and Explosive Area), Sikniktewaq (Drainage Area), and Kespe'kewaq (Last Land). Each of these districts had its own matriarch, generally the eldest and most-respected Grandmother, who would also often be a medicine woman. It also had its own district Grand Chief, or kji' saqamaw, selected from the chiefs within the area. Periodically, all of the district Grand Chiefs would convene in a Grand Council to make important decisions, such as the assignment of hunting and fishing territories or matters of peace and war. They would achieve a consensus and determine how relations with other nations would be managed. In all cases, the best interests of all of the people was the guiding principle. Once again the advice of the Grandmothers was listened to with greatest respect.

The Mi’kmaq were also members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a loose coalition that included the Maliseets, the Pasamaquoddy, the Penobscots, and the Eastern and Western Abenakis of present-day Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. At its peak, the Wabanaki Confederacy influenced life throughout the Maritimes and northern New England.


The seven districts of Mi'kma'ki

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Updated: 27 Mar 2016 Print Page