How a bond 'crucial to life' was forged between the Mi'kmaq and Acadians

A friendship forged in the tough Maritime winters is being celebrated this weekend at Grand-Pré 2017, which marks the 400-year relationship between the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq.

Shared history celebrated this weekend at Grand-Pré 2017

Grand Pré is the site of a celebration this weekend that marks centuries of co-operation and friendship between the Acadians and Mi'kmaq. (Submitted by Cindy Garnett-Rawding)

A friendship forged in the unforgiving Maritime winters is being celebrated this weekend at Grand-Pré 2017, which marks 400 years of co-operation between Acadians and the Mi'kmaq.

"The French and the Mi'kmaq had a very, very peaceful relationship. It went well for many years," Leland Surette, a Métis spiritual leader and member of the Kespu'Kwitk Métis Council, told CBC's Information Morning.

"However, in the last few years it's kind of gotten lukewarm and we were looking to rekindle that, to bring that back where it was before."

Surette spoke at an event Friday that traced the Mi'kmaq and Acadian connection beginning in 1604. 

Survival lessons

It was then that Chief Membertou greeted Samuel de Champlain as French families arrived in what would become Nova Scotia.

That first winter was a difficult one and many died of scurvy, but by the following year the newcomers had learned some keys to surviving in the harsh climate.

The Mi'kmaq taught the French settlers that drinking pine needle tea gives you all the vitamin C you need, and that yarrow can help reduce fevers. 

Grand-Pré 2017 began on Thursday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In turn, a herb called plantain made its way to Nova Scotia hidden in the wool of sheep, and was used to draw out infections and as a much-needed salve for mosquito bites.

"Some of those things were very crucial to life," said Surette. 

Words were also shared between the two cultures, with the Mi'kmaq language deriving more than 350 words directly from French, said Surette. 

"When you change someone's language, you really know how deep something has been affected, so you can see that the coming together of these two people changed the language. It did go very deep," he said.

Not about 'conquering each other'

Ronald Bourgeois, Acadian cultural co-ordinator, said the bond between Acadians and the Mi'kmaq was so strong partly because both groups faced persecution. 

"What's different with this relationship is it wasn't one of conquering each other. It was one of shared experiences," he said. 

Over the years, "we shared our blood, we shared our lives, we shared the land," said Bourgeois, who recalls how his father would talk about the Mi'kmaq with reverence. 

"[My family] knew the woods like the Mi'kmaq knew the woods and we respected the land and all of those things, right. I think it's fundamental," he said. 

During the Expulsion of the Acadians in the mid-1700s, many Mi'kmaq communities sheltered Acadian families in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

A more peaceful future

This climate of friendship and respect started to change when the English arrived, according to Mi'kmaq elder Dan Paul, who has an honourary degree from Université Sainte-Anne, the only francophone university in Nova Scotia. 

English settlers had a very different approach to the land and Indigenous people and that "was simply to conquer and brutalize, I guess, that's the best description," said Paul.

Dan Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder and historian, said many Mi'kmaq customs were adopted by Acadians. (CBC)

He said we can learn a lot from the relationship of respect and tolerance that was fostered between Acadians and the Mi'kmaq. 

"If France had prevailed in this area, I would imagine that somewhere along the line Mi'kmaq and Acadians would have formed some kind of distinct country and went into the future quite peacefully and happily together," he said.

About the Author

Emma Smith


Emma Smith is a web writer and radio producer from B.C. who fell in love with the East Coast. She's interested in reporting on rural communities and Indigenous issues.

With files from CBC's Information Morning and Maritime Noon