Friday, September 28, 2012

28 - Community

If you search long enough, sometimes you find exactly what you are looking for. Fortunately for me, this was the case earlier this spring.  I have been actively searching for someone to teach me the Mi'kmaq language. Last summer, when I met with an elder in the Pictou Landing Band in Nova Scotia, I expressed interest in learning some Mi'kmaq songs. She encouraged me to begin to learn the language and to go from there.

 Not sure exactly where to begin, I asked around in Millbrook when I visited the Glooscap Center last year and a very nice woman encouraged me to find a cultural center in Boston. "There are lots of Mi'kmaq in Boston," she said. In fact, Boston boasts the largest Mi'kmaq community outside of Canada, so I thought I would be certain to find someone to help me. After a long search, I had absolutely no luck.

One afternoon this winter, while I was waiting for my children to finish Sunday School, someone who knew that I was writing this blog casually mentioned that he sometimes attended a Powwow each spring in Devon, MA. He said, "There is a cultural center there, why don't you ask them?" Since starting this blog I often stumble upon information this way. These casual comments or bits of information lead me in the right direction if I take the time to follow up.  I found the group on facebook and they were holding Mi'kmaq classes!

This organization is called UNACC (United Native American Cultural Center) and is an inter tribal group. I arrived one Sunday afternoon, a bit nervous about coming to a strange place, but I was warmly welcomed. I immediately felt right at home and everyone there was down to earth and incredibly kind to me as a stranger. Even better was the fact that the classes were being taught through songs. I had actually found a center where the leader was Mi'kmaq and he was a drummer with an active drum group! So, I began to learn my first song in Mi'kmaq. A big, big, day for me in my journey.

After I had been there a few times, the "Chief" as we call him, whose name is Roland, took some time to talk to me about where he came from and explained a bit to me about what was happening with the drum group. I was thrilled for this because I had lots of questions. For those of you who may be reading this blog for the first time, I have only recently discovered that I am of Mi'kmaq descent through my grandmother. It is part of my heritage and sadly I know little of it. My ancestors hid their Mi'kmaq identity and with that hiding, came a disconnect with the culture. This is not an unusual story for many of First Nation descent.  I am learning all of it for the first time. I eagerly listen to and absorb everything that anyone tells me about Mi'kmaq culture or any native culture to which they belong.
Some members of UNACC practicing at a weekly meeting.
Roland is seated above in red. 

 Roland hails from Quebec on the Gespe'gewa'gi reserve. He is a fluent speaker of the Mi'kmaq language. He showed me some of the artifacts in their center from his reserve and Mi'kmaq culture. We also spoke about connections that he had in Nova Scotia.

As for the singing and drumming, he told me that only the men did the drumming traditionally. I had often wondered why this was. He explained that the men or the warriors were the keepers of the drum. Traditionally, in times of war, the grandmothers would keep the drums when the men were away because they did not menstruate.  It was believed that women who are "in their moon time" take power from the drum. Females must wear skirts when they are near the drum and I was welcome to sing along and use a rattle when I sing. If I was not wearing a skirt, I could not approach the drum. Roland explained to me that this was tradition and rooted in spirituality. It was not meant to to be disrespectful to women in any way.

The women and other men who do not drum will stand around the inner group of drummers forming a circle of protection around the drum. Roland is doing a great thing with this group because he is taking the time to teach these songs to the members who sing and drum. He takes great care that they are done well. I am lucky to have him as a teacher and I hope to learn everything that I can from him. My hope is that when I know some more songs I will be able to sing with them at powwows.
My ji'kmaqn, a gift from my cousin Cheryl.

As for my rattle, I asked him about using a Ji'kmaqn, a traditional Mi'kmaq percussion instrument.  I had been given one as a gift from my cousin Cheryl when we met at the Ma'wiomi Powwow last summer in Halifax. It was made by a Mi'kmaq basket maker and I treasure it because of the connection made that day to my history and to my new friend and cousin. (She is the granddaughter of my grandmother's sister.) Just last week, I used my Ji'kmaqn at the drum circle for the first time.

 I have since joined the UNACC organization and feel as if I have a new cultural home and community.  I will help with their powwow in May and some other events later this spring.  I am truly excited about this connection that I have found, the new friends I have made, and what I will learn about native communities as times go on. UNACC also has a connection to the Arostook Mi'kmaq Band in Maine and collects food and donations for elders in that community. Check them out on Facebook under UNACC.

This link was added as a comment to this post and I want to make sure people find it. It's a great resource site on Mi'kmaq culture for those of you who use Facebook. Here is the link:
Thank you to the kind reader who directed me to it!


  1. Mi'kmaq Culture Links and News

    1. Thank you so much for adding this link! It's a great wealth of information. I appreciate it!