Mi'kmaq Religious Beliefs

by Daniel Thomas

The Mi'kmaq, sometimes refereed to as the “Micmac” in English, are a group of people indigenous to the Canadian region of Nova Scotia, though they later inhabited regions including Newfoundland and Labrador and the American territory of New England. Existing knowledge of Mi'kmaq religious beliefs is somewhat general rather than specific, as three-quarters of the Mi'kmaq population was lost due to European disease by the 1700s and the post-contact Mi'kmaq culture readily adopted many European traditions.

Connection to Nature

Traditional Mi'kmaq adhered to a holistic belief system that focused on nature and the harmonious connection of all living things. The Mi'kmaq society believed in five nature-based spirit worlds known as “lodges,” of which the earth lodge was at the center. The subterranean root lodges were regarded as dangerous and mysterious, though they also created life, while the sky lodges were essential to the afterlife. Mi'kmaq people turned to plants for medicine and important symbols, including the sun, eagle feathers, the eight-pointed star and rainbows, to find their roots in nature.

Spirits

According to the Mi'kmaq tradition, a great spirit known as Kisu'lk created the universe and everything it contains, and all living things — people, animals and plants alike — possess a spirit. As such, all forms of life were respected; early settlers recount instances of Mi'kmaqs believing that guns would burst or erode if used to shoot birds, and even animals killed for food were treated with ceremonious respect. The highest spiritual lodge, the ancestors' lodge, was thought to be the place where spirits resided after death. The Mi'kmaqs believed that if someone misbehaved and needed to learn more lessons in life, they would not ascend to the ancestors' lodge but would return to earth in another life to continue learning. Members of the community known as puoin communicated with guardian spirits to serve as spiritual leaders and healers.

Customs

The Mi'kmaq regularly practiced prayer, thanking their spiritual creator for food and family on a daily basis. Singing and dancing played a part in the religious ceremonies of the Mi'kmaq, and in their daily lives. The Mi'kmaq decorated themselves with painted designs and ornaments during ceremonies, the latter of which were thought to endow the wearer with status, power and magical protection. The culture's beliefs were passed orally through myths and stories, often relayed by elders.

Catholic Integration

Upon first contact with the French in Atlantic Canada, the Mi'kmaq eagerly adopted new customs. This included the religious custom of Catholicism, introduced by missionaries in the early 1600s. Many Mi'kmaq combined Catholic beliefs and rituals with their own cultural beliefs. The French Catholic church also offered the Mi'kmaq protection from the English, further strengthening their religious bond. In 1930, the Shubenacadie Residential School began to force Mi'kmaq youth to give up their traditional beliefs in favor of Catholicism. By 2011, The Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq estimated that 90 percent of Mi'kmaq people were Roman Catholic.

About the Author

Kentucky native Daniel Thomas has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing in online and offline publications such as "Word Riot," Salon.com and "Bazooka Magazine." He specializes in topics related to the arts, manual labor, green living and fitness. Thomas graduated from Murray State University.