Nova Scotia

'Mi'kmaq Cinderella' could have connection to European folktale

Mi'kmaq story of the rainbow hunter has striking similarities to the fairy tale Cinderella, and some wonder if it was influenced by the arrival of Europeans in North America.

Mi'kmaq story about a rainbow hunter strikingly similar to the European Cinderella fairy tale

Catherine Martin says stone carvings in Kejimkujik National Park show scenes from the story of the rainbow hunter. This picture shows the image of a woman and was taken around 1946. (Nova Scotia Museum/

A researcher and a storyteller are wondering if a Mi'kmaq story with striking similarities to the fairy tale Cinderella was influenced by the arrival of Europeans in North America.    

"It has a lot of likeness to the Cinderella story," said Mi'kmaq storyteller Catherine Martin. "However I don't know where the story originated from, whether it came from a Cinderella story or if it came from us." 

The Mi'kmaq story about a rainbow hunter has elements depicted in rock carvings in Kejimkujik National Park, according to Martin. 

Martin said the rainbow hunter story she was told focuses on a young woman who is abused by her older sisters and injured so often she develops scars and sores. 

In the same village lived an invisible hunter. He was a sought after husband because he was extremely good at catching prey. But only a woman who could see the hunter would be able to marry him. 

The young woman's sisters both lied and pretended they could see the hunter, but couldn't describe him.

Martin said the young woman with the scars and sores also went to see the hunter, but before she did she replaced her clothes of rags with a beautiful dress she made of birch bark. 

When the woman met with the hunter she was able to describe him, highlighting the rainbow he wore as a sash. The hunter used his magic to heal the woman and make her beautiful. The pair lived happily ever after. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was something that was shared and told to us and we took it and remade it," said Martin. "I wouldn't feel one way or another about it. I cannot claim that it's our story only because we don't know."  

Cinderella story travelled far and wide 

This movie poster shows actress Lily James as Ella from Disney's live-action version of Cinderella. (Walt Disney Pictures)

The earliest English recording of the story appears in a book written in the 1890s, according Ronald Labelle, an associate professor of French and Acadian Studies at Cape Breton University. 

While he calls the story the "Mi'kmaq Cinderella," he said there's no direct evidence indicating whether it was influenced by the tale of Cinderella brought over by Europeans. 

If the Mi'kmaq did adapt the story from Europeans they weren't alone, said Labelle.  

"We've been able to trace it back from France to Italy, to Greece to the other side of the Mediterranean, in fact the oldest actual Cinderella story comes from China about 1,000 years ago," said Labelle. 

'People like an underdog'

It's not unusual for stories to start in southeast Asia, said Labelle, and travel from one country to another. He said it's also possible the Mi'kmaq story developed on its own and has no connection to the European version of Cinderella. 

"People like an underdog and people like stories where you have someone who's really oppressed and who manages to, through their own personal qualities, to get out of their misery and be successful. So it's a classic story in that way." 

It may be a classic story, but neither the rainbow hunter or Cinderella are favourites of Catherine Martin. 

When she tells Mi'kmaq stories in public she often doesn't tell the story of the rainbow hunter, mainly because she doesn't like the idea of a woman pinning all her hopes and dreams on a man. 

"I'm OK with telling the story as long as we have a way of discussing it in today's context. That we're not all out there trying to win the hearts of the strong hunting male," she said.