Mi’kmaq Land use and Subsistence Practices

At contact time, the Mi'kmaq, an eastern Algonquian people, exploited the resources of a vast homeland, called by them Mi 'kma 'kik, which bordered the lower half of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This homeland covered portions of the Gaspé Peninsula and the Quebec middle north shore, New Brunswick and Maine, all of Prince Edward Island and mainland Nova Scotia, as well as Cape Breton Island, the Magdalen Islands, the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and as shall be argued here, parts of southern Newfoundland.

Scholars do not agree on the size of pre-contact Mi'kmaq population before it was devastated by European-introduced epidemics. A moderate estimate puts their numbers somewhere between 6,000 and 15,000[…]

An extensive and indented coastline allowed for easy access to a rich array of aquatic fauna—seals, walrus, porpoises, small whales, various fresh and saltwater fish, eels, waterfowl, and invertebrates (clams, mussels, etc.) — which abound in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the Atlantic Ocean shore. Not surprisingly then, the Mi'kmaq were highly maritime-adapted. Nevertheless, especially during the winter months, they also depended on various types of terrestrial mammals, primarily moose, caribou, deer, black bear, beaver, porcupine, hare and other small game, in addition to partridge and grouse. Several kinds of berries, and also nuts, supplemented the diet.

The basic social unit of Mi'maq society was the extended family, that is to say an extended family to which various individual relatives were attached, such as grandparents, unmarried or widowed aunts, uncles and cousins, and even adopted persons. A number of these families formed a local band, the members of which habitually came together somewhere on the coast during the summer, but commonly split up again when its component family units departed elsewhere for winter hunting.

The Mi'kmaq were semi-sedentary hunters, fishermen and gatherers. […] In the early 1600s, Marc Lescarbot described them as "vagabonds, without agriculture, never stopping longer than five or six weeks in aplace". Marked regional differences in the distribution and availability of faunal resources, including fur animals, meant that the Mi'kmaq moved about a great deal in their quest for nourishment and shelter, particularly in winter when the band would split up into smaller family units. During the summer, however, band members might congregate for weeks or even months at favourable fishing locations such as river mouths where food supplies were seasonally plentiful […]

Source: Charles A. Martijn, "Early Mi'kmaq Presence in Southern Newfoundland: An Ethnohistorical Perspective, c. 1500- 1763," Newfoundland Studies 19 (2003): 49-52.

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