Indigenous PEI

Archaeological evidence and oral traditions indicate the presence of our Mi’kmaq ancestors on the shores of Epektwik’s Malpeque Bay dating back 10,000 years. Our spiritual attachment and connection to this island has endured over the millennia. Certainly, our livelihoods, traditions, and creative endeavours have been shaped and sustained by the seas that cradle Epektwik.

Prince Edward Island

Cradled on the Waves

The Traditional Lifestyle of the Mi’kmaq People

The Mi’kmaq way of life pre-colonization was very different than it is today. Our ancestors lived a simple life in harmony with nature. Because plant and animal life was important to their survival, the Mi’kmaq held great respect for them. They considered the plants and animals as “equals” who gave themselves to the people so they could survive. The Mi’kmaq only hunted and gathered enough food to provide a comfortable existence, making use of all parts of the animals they hunted. They made clothing from hides, tools and weapons from bones, and oils and fats were used for seasoning. Plants and roots were gathered for food, dyes and medicines.

Our ancestors were very resourceful. They survived by using all the available materials around them. The Mi’kmaq built their wigwams of birch bark and animal hides. They built their first canoes from birch bark, which is a style still in use today. Our ancestors also invented snowshoes to allow them to hunt large animals in the snow without sinking. The skills needed to make and use these objects were essential for survival and were passed down from one generation to the next.

In Mi’kmaq culture, elders were shown the greatest respect. The Mi’kmaq knew that the elders held a special gift – the gift of knowledge – and it was something their culture could not endure without. With age came knowledge and experience of the Mi’kmaq way of life that could be passed down to the next generation.

Mi’kmaq celebrations were an important part of life and would last for days with feasting, singing, dancing and various competitions. They celebrated weddings, funerals, the birth of a child and a successful hunt.

Storytelling was considered most important to celebrations as elders would gather the children and move to a quiet spot capturing their full attention. The elders would teach the children the truths of the world as they saw it through legends, songs, and games. They would tell stories of the relationship between people and the plant and animal persons, and why it was important not to misuse them. Stories of the good and the bad ways people got along, why there was war and peace. In this way, the children were taught the history, customs and manners of their people, building pride in their history.

Our ancestors were well adapted to their environments and in harmony with nature, allowing time to develop many art forms. Music, for example, has always been and will continue to be important in our community.

Traditional spirituality and legends are also an important part of our culture. In 1610, Grand Chief Membertou was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith and since then many Mi’kmaq have combined traditional spirituality with Christianity.

Migration and Medicine

In order to thrive in harmony with nature our ancestors had to adapt to the environment. As seasons changed, so too did food supplies in various regions. The seasonal migration patterns were developed from traditional knowledge passed down over generations. That knowledge allowed our ancestors to arrive in an area when food was at its most bountiful.

The Mi’kmaq traveled inland during the winter months, where forests provided them with more shelter as well as the meat and hides of larger animals they could hunt in the forest. In the summer they preferred to camp along the shore, fishing and hunting smaller animals. Our ancestors knew when to arrive at the coast in time for hunting seals, when to travel to rich rivers in time for salmon runs, or when to arrive at a bird colony in time to collect eggs.

Extra food was gathered and given to members of their village who were not always able to get enough themselves.

The culture of our Mi’kmaq ancestors was shaped in large part by the need to survive the extreme conditions of our territories. In doing so, they learned the powerful benefits of living in harmony with nature.

In addition to establishing important migration patterns for food and survival through the seasons, the Mi’kmaq developed a great wealth of knowledge in the fields of medicinal plants and natural remedies.The use of these medicines has become inseparable from prayer and spirituality and forms important cornerstones of our Mi’kmaq culture.


The Mi’kmaq language is a member of the Algonquin family of languages. From the 1920s to the 1960s, many young Mi’kmaq were sent to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak Mi’kmaq and therefore lost familiarity with speaking the language.

Over time, the Mi’kmaq language has evolved from the hieroglyphic form to one that uses the modern alphabet system. Many orthographic writing systems have been used in the Mi’kmaq language.

Different orthographies exist to write in Mi’kmaq. The most widely used is the Francis-Smith orthography, developed in 1974. It is used in Nova Scotia and it’s the orthography used by the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. The Listuguj orthography is used in Quebec and is the same as the Francis-Smith except the “k” is replaced by “g”. The Pacifique orthography has been developed in the early 20th century by Father Pacifique, but it omits a couple of vowels. The Rand orthography, developed in the late 19th century by Reverand Silas Tertius Rand, is not used anymore and is more complex.

One (Un)
Two (Deux)
Three (Trois)
Four (Quatre)
Five (Cinq)
Man (Homme)
Woman (Femme)
Dog (Chien)
Eagle (Aigle)
Moose (Elan)
Fish (Poisson)
Wolf (Loup)
Mi'kmaq words

Leadership and Governance

The government of the Mi’kmaq people followed a rich tradition. The Mi’kmaq government was not unlike today’s Canadian federal government. The Mi’kmaq followed the rules and customs handed down through generations. Each band had a hereditary Chief who would consult with a Regional Chief called a “Saqmaw.” Each Regional Chief also had a council of Band Chiefs depending on the size of their district.

The Mi’kmaq Grand Council consisted of Saqmaws and a Grand Chief called a “Kijsaqmaw”. Chieftainship was usually handed down from father to son. To ensure having many sons, the Chief would often take more than one wife.

This Grand Council would deal with issues that affected the entire nation, such as treaty signings and the negotiations of alliances. Alliances with tribes such as the Malecite and Penobscot were made to establish and maintain peace. The Mi’kmaq believed that peace was very important to the survival of the people and were willing to compromise in order to achieve it.