PEI·First Person

Reconnecting with my culture and taking pride in being Mi'kmaw

I never fully understood my culture or the history of our people as a child but simply knew I was Mi'kmaw and that the adults and elders in the community would tell us it was something to be proud of.

After living away from his community for years, Craig Knockwood and his family returned to Scotchfort

A class photo from when Craig Knockwood was in school. He's in the centre of the middle row wearing a dark blue shirt and his classmates have been blurred. (Submitted by Craig Knockwood)

This First Person article is the experience of Craig Knockwood, a member of the Abegweit First Nation on P.E.I. and an intern with UPEI's Climate Sense program. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I was born and raised here on P.E.I. and currently reside in Scotchfort where I spent most of my youth. I come from a family of six and am the oldest of four siblings. I also have two children of my own. 

Life being Mi'kmaw here on P.E.I. has had its ups and downs but is a unique experience I would never change. 

My life in Scotchfort was typical of anyone who lived in a small community and perhaps is one of my favourite parts of growing up Mi'kmaw. 

How learning about climate change is helping this man reconnect with his traditions

2 years ago
Duration 2:36
Craig Knockwood recently moved back to Scotchfort, part of the Abegweit First Nation on P.E.I. His job includes speaking to elders about how the climate is changing — something that is helping him reconnect with his culture and identity.

A tight knit community

We lived in a tight knit community made up of First Nations people, many who were family, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents and numerous cousins. When I use the term family, I use it to describe more than just my immediate family, since even distant cousins and people with no blood relation could easily be called family. 

We were never more than a five-minute walk away from a friend and my childhood was spent roaming the reserve in search of other kids to assemble some sort of crew to ride bikes with or play games such as British bulldog. 

Another upside to life in our small community is we all attended the same schools. The friends we had here at home were often the friends we had in school. 

Something to be proud of

I never fully understood my culture or the history of our people as a child but simply knew I was Mi'kmaw and that the adults and elders in the community would tell us it was something to be proud of. 

Outside of the community we were referred to as Indians or Natives. Maybe even Indigenous peoples or First Nations at times. The wording has changed a couple times in my life but whatever word is used, we usually get it. 

We lived life the same as anyone else. We celebrated all the major holidays, went to the same schools, practised the same religions and worked the same jobs. 

Knockwood, left, weaving a basket as part of a men's group to relearn traditions. (Submitted by Craig Knockwood)

What set us apart was the set of traditions we had as Mi'kmaw people. We had our own language, our own style of music and singing, our own special gatherings every year and we had our own type of art that many people in the community created. This of course is really simplifying it. There are many ways that the people here practise their culture, through traditions that have been passed from generation to generation to those willing to learn. 

Passing knowledge on

For a long time, I lived in Charlottetown and I kind of got detached from my culture.

Now that I am older and find myself back in my community I feel the need to relearn some of these traditions myself and reconnect with my Mi'kmaw background.

I'm currently an intern with UPEI's climate sense program and recently I was asking questions around the community in regards to climate change. 

We pass knowledge on. The elders speak to the youth and they teach us. It's passed from one generation to the next.

I talked to some elders who had quite a bit to say about the effects of climate change. They've experienced the seasons, they've lived off natural resources and then they see how things have changed from their time here to ours.

A good place, but not without its challenges

Personally, life has been good for me as a First Nations person. I feel the Abegweit First Nation is a good place to live and P.E.I. has not been a difficult place to grow up Mi'kmaw. 

There are some negative moments that stand out from my time in school and in my adult life where I experienced racial discrimination. It's no secret that racism happens here on P.E.I.

Knockwood with his girlfriend and two children. (Submitted by Craig Knockwood)

I think back to moments where the Mi'kmaw population would be singled out in school for offences we played no part in or overhearing conversations of people who openly voice their displeasure in being around us, noting how they felt like a minority here in our local business.

I have seen it numerous times and I'm sure many of the community members here have experienced it much more severely than I ever have. 

Proud of who I am

I hope it's something my children don't have to experience as much in their lives, although you need only look at any conversation regarding Mi'kmaw moderate livelihood fisheries to see racism is still very much present.

Our parents and elders in the community always explained people are ignorant — they don't know us, they don't understand our cultures and the things we do — so it's strange to them. Some people just react negatively to that.

Our elders told us to let it go, ignore it, let it roll off and be proud of who you are.

At the end of the day nothing has been done or said that I could not brush off and I know my people stay strong in the face of such things.   

Life is good and I am proud to be Mi'kmaw. 

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Craig Knockwood is a member of the Abegweit First Nation where he works as an intern for the Climate Sense program from UPEI. He currently resides in Scotchfort, P.E.I. with his family.