by Crystal Leverman
The First Nations people of Nova Scotia are the Mi’kmaq (info, The Mi’kmaq. 2008). With 13 Native communities in the province (Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey. 2010), the Mi’kmaq have a history of generosity (Mi’lmaw Welcome.2003). As discussed in an interview with Native artist and storyteller Gerald Gloade (personal communication September 28, 2010) two customs that demonstrate the generosity of the Mi’kmaq people are particularly relevant; first, when a community member dies, and second, the ceremonies held to mark the solstice.
The death of any Mi’kmaq member draws that individual’s community together to support the family and share the financial burden of funeral and burial costs. The deceased’s body rests in the family home for three or four days and during this time, called the wake, several giving practices occur. Community members pay respects by bringing gifts of food or money to the deceased’s family home and take turns sitting with family members beside the body as a 24 hour vigil is required. Residents also go door-to-door collecting donations of goods to be sold at auction. The donated items must be of significance to the donor with hand-woven baskets highly prized.
After the funeral community members go to the local hall where a feast and fundraising auction, called the sulietey, are held. Members bid on all donated items with auction proceeds given to the deceased’s family. It is not uncommon for auction items to sell for thousands of dollars.
Mi’kmaq’s pray to the rising sun, noticing how it floats across the horizon. The two days when the sun reaches it farthest point before floating back coincide with the summer and winter solstice. These days are a time of forgiveness and marked by celebration. The Mi’kmaq, therefore, can never be angry at another person for more than six months. The summer celebration is particularly significant. Each Native community in Nova Scotia holds a gathering, known as a mawio’mi, on a different weekend so that all Mi’kmaq can attend these celebrations. Attendees must bring a gift that is of personal significance to the mawio’mi as this represents a sacrifice. Examples of gifts are beadwork, basketry and smudge bowls. The gifts are placed on a blanket and the celebrants gather in a circle around them. Starting with the elders, each person takes a gift from the blanket. These gifts are highly valued and it is very meaningful when a gift makes its way back to the donor.
The giving traditions of the Mi’kmaq demonstrate its generosity, and, as a fellow Nova Scotian, I am grateful for the opportunity to share these examples.
Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq. (2007). Retrieved from: http://www.cmmns.com/
Info, The Mi’kmaq. (2008). Retrieved from: http://museum.gov.ns.ca/arch/infos/mikmaq1.htm
Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey.(2010). Retrieved from: http://www.kinu.ns.ca/
Mi’kmaq Nova Scotia FIRST NET(2009). Retrieved from: http://www.mns-firstnet.ca/communities/
Paul, Daniel. “Mi’kmaq Welcome.” Nova Scotia Tourist Association. (2003). Retrieved from:http://www.danielnpaul.com/Mi’kmaqCulture.html