Indigenous

Ji'kmaqn-making workshop teaches youth traditional Mi'kmaw sounds

Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation in New Brunswick may soon hear more rhythmic tapping after community members attended a workshop on how to make a ji'kmaqn, a traditional Mi'kmaw instrument. 

The ji'kmaqn is a Mi'kmaw musical instrument made from black ash wood

George Paul, a Mi'kmaw elder from Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation, offered lessons on making a ji'kmaqn at the community's heritage park. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation in New Brunswick may soon hear more rhythmic tapping after community members attended a workshop on how to make a ji'kmaqn, a traditional Mi'kmaw instrument. 

A ji'kmaqn is an instrument made out of black ash wood and is played by tapping it against one's hand or knee. 

George Paul, 69, is an elder and musician and taught the five attendees about making the wooden instrument. He said he was just tickled to see young people interested in their culture because for too long it was stigmatized to embrace Mi'kmaw culture. 

"It makes me feel really good that they're interested and being involved in it," said Paul. 

Rebecca Dunnett splits black ash logs, which are used to make the ji'kmaqn. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Paul taught them how to harvest the wood and walked the group through splitting the ash logs, scraping the bark off, and shaping the ji'kmaqn. 

He said the ji'kmaqn dates back to when the Mi'kmaq first wanted to enter the settler economy. They were making black ash baskets which were often prized by the Europeans. 

WATCH | George Paul demonstrates the ji'kmaqn

George Paul plays the ji'kmaqn and sings a ko'jua song

16 days ago
Duration 0:33
Mi'kmaw elder George Paul taught a ji'kmaqn-making workshop recently at Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation in New Brunswick.

Mi'kmaq believe in using everything they harvest, from animals to plants, so families began making tools and instruments from the extra wood. 

The ji'kmaqn would often be played with the ko'jua, a Mi'kmaw traditional dance similar to the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) smoke dance. 

When the Mawita’jik Competitive Powwow gets underway in Dartmouths later this month, the Ko’jua will be featured both on the cultural stage and in competition. Host Jeff Douglas spoke with Aaron Prosper, a Mi'kmaw singer and dancer from Eskasoni First Nation, about the significance of the dance.

Rebecca Dunnett, 26, project co-ordinator at the community's heritage park, is Mi'kmaw from the community and helped to organize the workshop but she was also there to learn.

"We want to make sure the young people have the opportunity to learn these skills," she said.

George Paul works on shaving a ji'kmaqn into shape. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Nicholas Peter-Paul, 22, is also a community member and said he is happy to learn about the culture now because in his youth he rejected it. He said he was often bullied for being Mi'kmaw when he was young but as he's learned more the culture, he sees how valuable it is. 

He's now a tour guide at the park and teaches Mi'kmaw kids about their culture. 

Nicholas Peter-Paul says he grew up being bullied for his culture but now helps educate others about its value. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

"It's nice to feel like your giving that courage to the youth, 'Hey, this your culture and you shouldn't have to be ashamed of it,'" said Peter-Paul. 

George Paul said he hopes as more people learn about the ji'kmaqn and ko'jua, more people will celebrate Mi'kmaw culture. 

"This is so unique to the Mi'kmaq nation," said Paul. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe

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