Nova Scotia

Hundreds of Mi'kmaw artifacts return home to Cape Breton

A collection of 250 Mi'kmaw artifacts was previously being stored within a New Brunswick university's archives.

Tools, arrow heads, jewelry were previously stored at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick

William Nevin, left, elder in residence at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., speaks alongside Jeff Ward, museum manager at the Membertou Heritage Park during a ceremony in Membertou, N.S., on Monday. They spoke about a collection of 250 Mi'kmaw artifacts that will now be displayed in the community located near Sydney. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Mi'kmaw beaded jewellery, arrow heads, tomahawks and other tools have come home to Cape Breton after spending decades in the archives of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. 

A ceremony was held at the Membertou Heritage Park on Monday to welcome a collection of 250 artifacts sacred to the Mi'kmaq. Many of the objects are believed to have originated in Cape Breton. 

Heritage park museum manager Jeff Ward said the artifacts create a better understanding of how the Mi'kmaq hunted, traded and how long they've been inhabiting the Earth. 

The objects covering four tables include several pipes, crystals, beaded jewelry and fossils which will now be on display in Membertou, located next to Sydney. 

Ward said that the artifacts will help break down a lot of barriers and prove Mi'kmaw history.

"These exhibits and these artifacts are truth," Ward said. "They're the physical truths of a time period proving that we've been here 27,000, 30,000, 50,000 [years] longer than what we've been taught."

Mount Allison University officials worked with Mi'kmaw elders to safely transport the Mi'kmaw artifacts from their archives in Sackville, N.B., to Membertou Heritage Park in Membertou, N.S. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Mount Allison University officials were given the collection in 1958 by the estate of one of their former graduates, Clara Dennis. Dennis was a Nova Scotia reporter and author who likely picked up some of the artifacts on her travels or received them as gifts, although the origin of each piece is unknown.

The university worked with its Mi'kmaw elders in residence to determine that many stones in the collection belong to Cape Breton's five Indigenous communities.

Additional pieces that are believed to be from other regions across Atlantic Canada may one day help explain an early Mi'kmaw trade system or economy. 

"It's not usual at the university that we would have an alumni who would donate part of a collection to us," said Anne Comfort, student affairs vice-president at Mount Allison.

The collection was given to Mount Allison in 1958 from the estate of the late Nova Scotian reporter and author Clara Dennis. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

"We're very proud to have gifted them to Membertou, so that they can be back home.''

Membertou elder Lawrence (L'lun) Wells said he could feel his ancestors around him as he entered the room.

"These artifacts, we call them grandfathers," Wells said. "And they have a story. They have a history. And they have a spirit. And each one somebody had held them and they made their tools to survive." 

Ward said he believes that there are more Mi'kmaw artifacts at museums or universities.

He said that it's believed many of those items now want to come out of hiding, so they can help explain a history that was lost to so many people. 

"The message we received, spiritually, was that they want to come out," Ward said. "They want to see our people and they want to help teach."

Ward said the artifacts now have a permanent home at the museum where they will be exhibited for many years to come. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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