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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > M > Micmacs

Micmacs

(Souriquois of the early French)

The easternmost of the Algonquin tribes and probably the first visited by a white man, formerly occupied what is now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton, as well as part of New Brunswick, Quebec, and south-western Newfoundland. According to their traditions, they held third rank in the original distribution of the land among the confederation of the eastern Algonquins. The first place belonged to the "father" of that nation, namely the Ottawa tribe, which received as its share the "land of origins"; the second, called the Wapanakiag, the "country of the dawn", fell to the lot of the Abenakis, while the third province, known as Migmagig, was allotted to the Micmacs. Until the arrival of the white man, an annual ceremony long recalled this compact. There is a probability that the Micmacs were visited by Sebastian Cabot (1497) and by Cortereal (1501). They welcomed the French and their religion, preached to them by secular priests and Jesuits, as well as by Recollects and by Capuchins. Father Biard (1611) has left us an interesting account of this tribe, which he characterized as mild and peaceful in temperament. He estimated its numbers at three thousand or three thousand five hundred. The Capuchins even opened for it and the white settlers the first high school within the limits of New France, and a report of the Micmac missions sent to Rome (1633) located one of them in Portu Regio. Father Leclerq, a French Recollect who did much for their instruction, called them Gaspesians, probably because he had first landed (1675) on the Gaspé peninsula, where he successfully laboured for about twelve years. It was not until 1693 that these aborigines became officially known by their true name. Quick to appreciate the religion of the French, the Micmacs were no less faithful to the flag which to them symbolized it. Though not given to the cruel practices of the Iroquois and other eastern tribes, they proved their bravery by an active share in the French and English wars, and their lasting hostility to the colonization schemes of England. The erection of forts on the coast, especially the one at Halifax, exasperated them, but on the fall of Canada, Abbé Maillard (1735-62) succeeded in reconciling them to a new order. Several chiefs made their formal submission (1761) and ever since, though more in sympathy with the French, the Micmacs have remained loyal to the British Crown. In 1778 the United States endeavoured to incite them to revolt, but Father Bourg, at the request of the colonial authorities, restrained them from the war-path.

The Micmacs originally dwelt in the ordinary conical wigwams common to most Algonquin tribes; their garments were of dressed leather and ornamented with an abundance of fringe; their government resembled that of the New England aborigines; and their main occupation was fishing. Except in the case of the chiefs, polygamy was not general. There is an old tradition, related by an Abanki of Old Town (Nicolar, "Life and Traditions of the Red Man, 1893) that the Indians came from the West while the white man originated in the East. The Micmacs are remarkable for the fact that they are the only Canadian tribe which ever used hieroglyphs, or ideograms, as a means of acquiring religious and secular knowledge. These were invented in 1677 by Father Leclerq, who took the idea from the rude signs he one day some some children draw on birch bark with coal, in their attempts to memorize the prayers he had just taught them. They consisted of more or less fanciful characters, a few of which, such as a star for heaven and an orb for the earth, bore some resemblance to the object represented. A number of manuals were composed which remained in manuscript until 1866, when Father Kauder, a Redemptorist who for some time ministered to them, had type bearing the ideograms cast in Austria, with which he printed a catechism and a prayer book. Though the hieroglyphs are still known by the Micmacs, for all general purposes Roman type has been substituted, in which a little newspaper is published monthly at Restigouoche, Quebec. In the autumn of 1849 the Protestants formed a Micmac Missionary Society, which commenced work in the vicinity of Charlottetown. Rev. Silas Rand, a great linguist and prolific writer, was the principal agent. The Indians, almost without exception, have remained steadfast in their fidelity to the Church of their first missionaries. Another point in which the Micmacs may be said to be remarkable is the manner in which their population holds its own in spite of many difficulties, such as the bad example given by the whites, and the facility with which they can procure intoxicants. In 1891 they had increased to 4180; and later, a careful census taken by one of the Capuchins, living among them since 1894, showed that they numbered 3850 in Canada and 200 in Newfoundland. The Blue Book of the Canadian Government for 1909 sets down their numbers at 3961 within the Dominion alone, practically all of whom are Catholics. All the Indians of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (respectively 2073 and 274) are Micmacs.

Sources

LECLERQ, Nouvelle Relation de la Gaspésie (Paris, 1691); Idem, First Establishment of the Faith in New France, II (New York, 1881); MAILLARD, An Account of the Customs and Manners of the Mikmakis and Maricheets (London, 1758); Lettre de l'Abbé Maillard sur les missions de l'Acadie et particulièrement sur les missions micmaques (Quebec, 1863); PACIFIQUE, Quelques Trails caractéristiques de la Tribu les Micmacs in Congrès International des Américanistes, 15th session (Quebec, 1907).

About this page

APA citation. Morice, A. (1911). Micmacs. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10283b.htm

MLA citation. Morice, Adrian. "Micmacs." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10283b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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