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Micmac Indian Fact Sheet (Mi'kmaq)

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Micmacs for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Mi'kmaq language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Micmac pictures and links we consider suitable for all ages.

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    Micmac Tribe

How do you pronounce "Mi'kmaq?" What does it mean?
Mi'kmaq is pronounced MICK-mack in English. In their own language, Mi'kmaq people pronounce it MEE-gmakh, with a raspy final consonant. The apostrophe is a vowel marker showing that the i is a long vowel. "Mi'kmaq" originally came from a word meaning "My friends."

What is the right way to spell "Mi'kmaq"?
Not all Mi'kmaq people use the same spelling system. Most Mi'kmaq First Nations use one of the three spellings Mi'kmaq, Micmac, or Míkmaq. Any of those three spellings is acceptable. Sometimes, especially in history books, you will see the word spelled another way: Mi'gmaq, Mikmaq, Miikmaq, Mikmak, or Mick Mack. All these spellings refer to the same tribe.

What is the difference between the words Mi'kmaq and Mi'kmaw?
Mi'kmaq is the plural form and Mi'kmaw is the singular form. "Q" is a plural ending in Mi'kmaq, like "S" is in English. So when Micmac people are speaking their own language, they use Mi'kmaw to describe one person or object, and Mi'kmaq to describe more than one. This makes sense to French speakers, but in English, we don't have endings for our adjectives. So when most Micmac people are speaking English, they use the plural form for everything (one Mi'kmaq canoe, two Mi'kmaq canoes, etc.) But some Micmac people continue to use the singular form in English (one Mi'kmaw canoe, two Mi'kmaq canoes.)

An interesting note: the plural noun "Mi'kmaqs" or "Micmacs" contains two plural endings, one in Mi'kmaq and one in English! Many bilingual Mi'kmaq Indians prefer to always say "Mi'kmaq people" instead of "Mi'kmaqs" because the double plural sounds so strange to them.

Where do the Micmacs live?
The Micmacs are original people of the Canadian Maritimes, especially Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Due to their alliance with the Wabanaki tribes, Mi'kmaq people also lived throughout the broader Northeast Coast area including Quebec. Newfoundland, and Maine. Here is a map showing the location of Mi'kmaq tribal territory. Today, most Mi'kmaq people live on the Canadian side of the border, but the Aroostook Band of Micmacs live in northeastern Maine.

What is the population of the Mi'kmaq Nation?
There are 160,000 Mi'kmaq tribal members. However, the real number of Mi'kmaq people is higher than that. Some Mi'kmaq people are unenrolled (meaning they have Mi'kmaq heritage but do not live on the reservation and are not officially registered with the tribe.)

How is the Micmac Indian nation organized?
Each Micmac Indian community lives on its own reserve or reservation. Reserves are land that belongs to the tribe and is legally under their control. The Micmac Indians in the United States call their community a tribe. In Canada, they call themselves bands or First Nations. Each Micmac tribe or First Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country, Some Mi'kmaq nations have also formed coalitions to address common problems. In total there are 27 Mi'kmaq bands in Canada, and one in the United States.

The leader of a Micmac tribe is called the chief--saqamaw or sakmaw in the Mikmaq language. In the past, Micmac chiefs were chosen by tribal councilmembers. Often they picked one of the last chief's sons or nephews. Today chiefs are elected in most Micmac nations, just like governors or mayors.

What language do Micmac Indian people speak?
Most Micmacs speak English, but many of them also speak the Mi'kmaq language, Mi'kmawi'simk. Mi'kmaq is a song-like language with complicated verbs. You can listen to a Mi'kmaq woman sing a translation of the Beatles song "Blackbird" in her language here, and read a Mi'kmaw picture dictionary here. If you'd like to learn a few easy Micmac words, kwe' (rhymes with "day") is a friendly greeting and wela'lin (pronunciation wuh-LAH-leen) means "thank you."

Could the Mi'kmaq Indians read and write?
The Mi'kmaq language didn't have an alphabet like English. It was written using an ideographic writing system, which means Mi'kmaq people used pictures to represent words or ideas. Sometimes these symbols are called hieroglyphs, though they are not similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Here are some records showing what Mi'kmaq picture writing looked like. Today, Mi'kmaq is written with a modified English alphabet.

What was Mi'kmaq culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the New Brunswick Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs. Their website has lots of information about Maliseet and Micmac culture, both in the past and today. You can also watch this short movie, Land & Sea: The Mi'kmaq Journey, to hear Mi'kmaq tribal members talk about the importance of their traditions.

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How do Micmac Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Mi'kmaq children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls and toys to play with. Here are some pictures of Micmac games for children. Teenagers and adults played a stick-and-ball game similar to hockey. Like many Native Americans, Mi'kmaq mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with pictures of cradleboards and other Native baby carriers.

What were men and women's roles in the Micmac tribe?
Micmac men were hunters and fishermen, and they sometimes went to war to protect their families. Micmac women took care of the children, built their family's lodge, and gathered plants to eat and herbs to use for medicine. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and religious festivals. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Micmac woman can be chief too.

What were Micmac homes like?
The Micmacs didn't live in tepees. They lived in small villages of wigwams or lodges, which are houses made of wood and birchbark. A Micmac wigwam was only about the size of a modern camp tent, and Micmac people spent most of their time outside. Here are some pictures of wigwams like the ones Mi'kmaq Indians used. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Micmacs live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Micmac clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Mi'kmaq women wore hide tunics and long skirts. Mi'kmaq men wore breechcloths with leggings. Men didn't have to wear shirts in the Micmac culture, but when it was cold out, they wore warm robes. Like most Native Americans, the Mi'kmaqs wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a website with pictures of Native moccasins. Later, the Micmacs adapted European costume such as blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are some pictures of Mi'kmaq clothing and some photographs and links about Native American fashion in general.

Traditionally, the Micmacs didn't wear long feather headdresses. Micmac women often wore a distinctive peaked (pointed) hat, and both men and women wore beaded headbands with feathers sticking up from them. The Micmacs didn't usually paint their faces, but sometimes men painted them red if they were going into battle. Most Mi'kmaq people wore their hair long and loose. In fact, French missionaries even complained they couldn't tell Mi'kmaq women and men apart because of their long Indian hair! In the 1800's, some Micmac chiefs started wearing an impressive Native headdress like the Plains Indians, and it became popular for Micmac women to braid their hair.

Today, some people still wear traditional Micmac clothing like moccasins or a beaded cap, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Micmac transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Micmac Indian tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. Here's a picture of a Mi'kmaq canoe. The upward curve in the middle of the canoe is a distinctive Micmac style. Canoeing is still popular within the Mi'kmaq nation, though few people handcraft their own canoe from birch bark anymore. Here is a website with birch bark canoe pictures. Over land, the Micmac tribe used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Micmac people used snowshoes and sleds to help them travel in the winter. The English word "toboggan" is actually borrowed from the Micmac word for "sled."

Today, of course, Micmac people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Micmac food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Micmac tribe was semi-nomadic. That means they moved from place to place as they collected food for their families to eat. The Mikmaqs were good at fishing and hunting large game like caribou and moose. Micmac men also went to sea to harpoon seals, walrus, and even whales. Other foods in the Micmac diet included berries, squash, and maple syrup made from tree sap. Some Mi'kmaq communities raised crops like corn and beans, while other communities didn't do much farming and traded for corn and vegetables with neighboring tribes. Here is a website with four traditional Mi'kmaq recipes, and more information about Native American food in general.

What were Micmac tools and weapons like in the past?
Mi'kmaq hunters used bows and arrows and bone spears. Here is a replica of a Micmac style double bow. Fishermen used nets and pronged spears to catch sturgeon and salmon from their river canoes. Mi'kmaq warriors fired their bows or fought with heavy clubs carved from tree roots or stone. Here is a website with pictures and information about Native American bows and other traditional weapons.

What are Micmac arts and crafts like?
Micmac artists are famous for their quill art. Micmac artists dyed porcupine quills different colors and created mosaic-like designs out of them. Some colonists even called them the Porcupine Indians because they were so skilled at this craft. The Micmacs were also known for their beading and basket-weaving. Here is a photo gallery of Wabanaki baskets. Like other eastern American Indians, Micmacs also crafted wampum belts out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and symbols on a wampum belt often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Micmac music like?
The two most important Micmac instruments are drums and flutes. Micmac drums were usually large and several men would play them together at dances and other community events. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is a video of Micmac drummers performing an honour song at the Listuguj pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Micmac tribe interact with?
The Micmac were great traders, carrying goods between northern tribes like the Innu and Cree and New England tribes like the Abenaki and Pennacook. They were also fierce warriors, fighting with the powerful Iroquois League and the Beothuk of Newfoundland.

But their most important neighbors were the Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot tribes. These five tribes formed an alliance called the Wabanaki Confederacy. Before this alliance, the Micmacs were not always friends with these other tribes. Sometimes they even fought wars. But once they joined the Confederacy, the Wabanaki tribes never fought each other again, and are still allies today.

What kinds of stories do Mi'kmaq Indian people tell?
There are lots of traditional Mi'kmaq legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Mi'kmaq culture. Here is one legend about Glooscap (Gluskabe), the culture hero of the Wabanaki tribes, and another about Rabbit and the Moon. Here's a website where you can read more about Micmac mythology.

Who are some famous Mi'kmaq Indians?
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, the famous American Indian activist, was Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia. She worked for Native American rights and an important figure in the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1975 she was assassinated and the crime is still unsolved. Anna Mae is still an important figure for many Native Americans in the United States and Canada today. You can read more about her life and death here.

What problems does the Micmac Indian tribe face today?
In Canada, natives and non-natives have many conflicts about Indian land rights. When the Micmac tribes of New Brunswick and Quebec signed treaties with the Canadian government, they gave up ownership of most of their original land. In exchange, the government agreed that the Micmacs would have special fishing, hunting, and logging rights. Some white fishermen, hunters, and loggers think it is unfair that they don't have the same rights that the Micmacs do, even though the Micmacs have a legal settlement with the government paying for those rights. In New Brunswick, some people got so angry that they destroyed Mi'kmaq and Maliseet fishing equipment and set a sacred site on fire. Eventually the situation calmed down, but there is still a lot of tension between the Micmac Indians and their white neighbors in this area. Here's a news article about this situation that is written for younger readers. Older kids might like to watch the documentary Incident at Restigouche about conflicts over Mi'kmaq treaty rights in Quebec.

What about Micmac religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Micmac life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Micmac people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about these traditions, however. You can visit this site to learn more about the Micmac spirit world or this site about Native American spirituality in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
Younger children may enjoy The Rough-Faced Girl, a Mi'kmaq version of the Cinderella fairytale. For older kids who like mythology, we recommend On the Trail of Elder Brother, a collection of Mi'kmaq legends told by a Native writer and illustrator. You might also be interested in Clearcut Danger, a Canadian novel about a Micmac girl and a white boy who team up to oppose an unethical logging company. Robert Leavitt's Maliseet and Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes is a very good reference book about Maliseet culture for young readers, though it can be hard to find in the United States. Micmac: How Their Ancestors Lived Five Hundred Years Ago is an easier-to-find reference book with a lot of good information in it. You can also browse through our recommendations of books by Indian authors. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book for sale through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Micmac Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Micmacs

Micmac Indian Tribe
An overview of the Micmac people, their language and history.

Mi'kmaq Language Resources
Mi'kmaq language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Micmac Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Micmac people past and present.

Micmac Words
Micmac Indian vocabulary and definitions.

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