Mi'kmaq culture celebrated at Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst this summer

The history of the Mi'kmaq people is being brought to life at the Parks Canada national historic site at Rocky Point. The site has a new name this summer. It was announced in February that Skmaqn would be added to Port-la-Joye-Fort-Amherst as the official name.

'They're great interpreters, great storytellers and they love their culture'

Junior Peter-Paul shares traditional Mi'kmaq songs with visitors to the site. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

It's the first thing that greets visitors arriving at the historic site: a new sign featuring the new name Skmaqn-Port-la-Joye-Fort-Amherst.

"It was so nice when I came to work this year when I saw Skmaqn," said Mi'kmaq elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache.

It was announced in February that Skmaqn, pronounced Ska-MAA-kin, would be added to Port-la-Joye-Fort-Amherst as the official name. There are also new signs with greetings in French, English and Mi'kmaq.

'It means so much to me'

"It means so much to me because we're no longer called Micmac — that was the Western term, the English couldn't say Mi'kmaq," said Knockwood-Snache.

Mi'kmaq elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache explains the traditional Mi'kmaq game of waltes. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"I don't want to be called MicMac anymore. I want to be called what we really are — that's Mi'kmaq."

There is also special programming this summer centred on the Mi'kmaq culture.

There's an exhibit of photos featuring the regalia, or decorative clothing, worn at powwows in eastern Canada.

'They've never really seen a wigwam'

The two Mik'maq elders and a youth interpreter interact with visitors at the traditional wigwam that was built last summer. They play the traditional Mi'kmaq game of waltes, sing Mi'kmaq songs and talk about traditional medicines and crafts.

The Mi'kmaq interpretive programming takes place at the wigwam that was built last summer. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"I introduce myself and I really want to know where they are from," said Knockwood-Snache.

"We've had visitors already from Shanghai, Greece, Germany and Russia and they've never really seen a wigwam like this before but they've heard of it and read about it."

 Knockwood-Snache explains to visitors that the wigwam represents a mother's dress, somewhere she feels very protected.

'What my grandfather taught me'

"I tell them don't believe everything that you read," she said. "Come and see it for yourself and talk with an elder because we have the knowledge. 

There is a display of photos at the interpretive centre featuring the regalia worn at powwows. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)


Junior Peter-Paul helped to build the wigwam and is now making moose callers out of birch bark and spruce roots. He too likes the new name.

"It reminds you that in our history, our Mi'kmaq people used to live here and they still do today," said Peter-Paul.

"I just share little stories about the place, the Skmaqn, I'll share some of my stories about what my grandfather taught me."

'Important for me to be here'

Michael Sark lives at Rocky Point and is excited to be working at the site this summer.

Junior Peter-Paul helped to build the wigwam and is now making moose callers out of birch bark and spruce roots. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It's important for me to be here so when I'm older I can teach youth how the traditional Mi'kmaq things are done," Sark said.

"The best part is they teach me everything, every day, every second."

'Such a blessing'

Ocel Dauphinais-Matheson of Parks Canada says the elders are truly bringing the site to life for visitors.

The first thing that greets visitors arriving at the historic site is a new sign featuring the new name Skmaqn-Port-la-Joye-Fort-Amherst. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"They're great interpreters, great storytellers and they love their culture, so to have them there, to work with them is just such a blessing," Dauphinais-Matheson said.

There is a phase two of the Mi'kmaq programming coming this fall. The artist who built the wigwam will be back on P.E.I. to work with the elders to build a birch bark canoe.

"The Mi'kmaq Confederacy and Parks Canada really both wanted to build on the success of last summer," said Jesse Francis.  

"Everyone involved really wanted to continue."

Mi'kmaq elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache puts tobacco on the wigwam, a gesture of thanks to the trees for being part of the structure in July 2017. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

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About the Author

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca