Mi'kmaw grandmothers gather in Unama'ki to share cultural knowledge, teachings

A Mi'kmaw cultural retreat is taking place in Unama'ki (Cape Breton, N.S.) in hopes of inspiring the next generation of leaders.

Roughly 50 grandmothers will gather this weekend to share and learn from one another

Mikmaw grandmothers from across Cape Breton will gather this weekend to share traditional knowledge. They're shown here at an event from a previous year. (Submitted by: Karen Bernard)

Mi'kmaw grandmothers are gathering in Unama'ki (Cape Breton, N.S.) this weekend in hopes of inspiring the next generation of community leaders through lessons in cultural knowledge, ceremonies and oral storytelling. 

Karen Bernard, a Mi'kmaw woman from We'koqma'q First Nation, says the event is a great place to learn. 

"I love it, I love the feeling I get and the energy I acquire there," said Bernard.

She helped organize the first grandmothers' gathering in 2020, which has since become an annual event. This year, Bernard is taking a break from organizing so she can attend and just focus on learning. 

She's a grandmother-in-training, she said. 

Sharing parents advice, traditional medicine

The Mi'kmaq Circle of Hope typically sponsors the event and invites grandmothers from the five Mi'kmaw Unama'ki communities: We'koqma'q, Potlotek, Membertou, Wagmatcook and Eskasoni First Nations. 

Bernard says the grandmothers always share a variety of knowledge, including parenting advice, traditional medicines, cultural knowledge and oral legends. 

She said she's grateful for the knowledge the other women share — and she said she's amazed at the caring nature of the women, despite the colonial violence they've faced. 

"They make you feel like this is where you need to be, and this is where you should be," Bernard said. 

Karen Bernard is from We'koqma'q First Nation and considers herself a grandmother-in-training. She says she'll be at the event for the cultural teachings and the mentorship the grandmothers have to offer (Facebook)

Heidi Marshall organized this year's gathering, which will take place in Cleveland, a community about 118 kilometres southwest of Sydney, N.S. 

About 50 grandmothers are scheduled to attend the event. There will still be strict public health measures in place at the gathering, including physical distancing and making rapid tests available.

In Mi'kmaw culture, grandmothers are held in high esteem, Marshall said, and they're often a child's first teacher. She says any leader in Mi'kma'ki, the homeland of the Mi'kmaq, can learn a lot from the grandmothers. 

"I think it's really important for us to spend this time with them so we can pass on their knowledge as well," Marshall said. "The grandmothers need to be heard and want to be heard. Their knowledge should be shared, because we're the keepers of our culture."

Heidi Marshall is an adjunct professor at Cape Breton University, president of of Mi'kmaq Circle of Hope Society and is organizing the grandmothers' gathering in Unama'ki. (Submitted by Heidi Marshall)


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