Easternmost of the Algonquin tribes and probably the first visited by a white man
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 southwestern Newfoundland. According to their traditions they held third rank in the original distribution of 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 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 men, 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 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 Leclercq, a French Recollect who did much for their instruction, called them Gaspesians, probably because he had first landed (1675) on the Gaspe peninsula, where he successfully labored for about twelve years. It was not until 1693 that these aborigines became officially known under their true name. Quick to appreciate the religion of the French, the Miemacs 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 their 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, Abbe Maillard (1735-62) succeeded in reconciling them to the 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 endeavored 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 Abenaki of Oldtown (Nicolar, “Life and Traditions of the Red Men”, 1893), that the Indians came from the West while the white men 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 Leclercq, who took the idea from the rude signs he one day saw some children draw on birch bark with coal, in their attempt 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 prayer book. Though the hieroglyphics are still known by the Micmacs, for all general purposes Roman type has been substituted, in which a little newspaper is published monthly in their own language at Restigouche, Quebec. In the autumn of 1849 the Protestants formed a Micmac Missionary Society, which commenced work the following year and made a few proselytes 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 for 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 4108; 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.
A. G. MORICE