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Tradition, Change and Survival: Mi'kmaq Tourist Art

Alexandre Dubé, McCord Museum

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Introduction:

Alexandre Dubé, McCord Museum, 2003

Objects from the past are like the marks that the Mi'kmaq call elaptog, prints left by someone who has passed by. These objects bring to life what can no longer be seen and invite us to walk in the footsteps of those who came before us.

The historic Mi'kmaq objects presented here are much more than beautiful creations and remnants of a time gone by. They mark the crossroads of the destinies of Mi'kmaq and Euro-Canadians of yesterday and today and, at the same time, reveal the discreet presence of David Ross McCord, who collected the objects between 1913 and 1919.


ACC5450A-B
© Musée McCord
Panier
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1870, 19e siècle
9.5 x 15.5 x 25.6 cm
Don de Mrs. James H. Peck
ACC5450A-B
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Part 1 - Art of the Mi'kmaq, Valuable Knowledge

The Mi'kmaq, who live along Canada's east coast, have long made objects that are practical, meaningful and aesthetically pleasing using a variety of complex techniques. Examining these objects helps us to recognize the creativity of these Aboriginal people and the dynamism of their culture, which has always been open to change. Each finely worked piece is testimony to knowledge that goes back many thousands of years.

The Mi'kmaq are skilled in the use of the resources provided so generously by their lands, which are covered with forests and border the Atlantic Ocean. To create everyday objects, the Mi'kmaq often use wood: the bark, branches and young saplings of maple, oak, ash, birch and cedar trees.

Quoi:

This fancy basket is made with wood splints. The decorative motif is inspired by the periwinkle (jikiji'j in Mi'kmaq), a small mollusk that abounds along the seashore.

Où:

In the 19th century, the Mi'kmaq travelled far and wide to sell their art, in particular, their baskets. This one comes from Rivière-du-Loup; it may have been produced there or in the Gaspé and subsequently sold to a tourist or collector.

Quand:

The basket was probably made during the second half of the 19th century.

Qui:

Mi'kmaq baskets always carry the mark of the artist who made them. Even if the collectors and buyers who acquired the baskets in the 19th century neglected to record the makers' names, basketmakers can recognize each other's distinctive styles.

M62
© Musée McCord
Jauge à éclisses
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1875-1900, 19e siècle
4.5 x 13.4 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M62
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Even when created for everyday use, Mi'kmaq artisanal objects are decorated with a variety of motifs based on the experience and cultural background of their creators. Like most Mi'kmaq knowledge, basketweaving techniques are passed down from one generation to the next.

The art of weaving woodsplint baskets requires great skill, and such baskets have always been much admired. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, beautifully woven Mi'kmaq baskets were snapped up by eager buyers all along the eastern seaboard. The Mi'kmaq still make and sell woodsplint baskets today.

This basket gauge was used to produce splints of a uniform width. Note the serrated metal teeth on the edge. A strip of wood is pulled down and over the teeth to cut splints of a predetermined width.

Quoi:

This carved mahogany basket gauge was used to make wood splints for basketweaving. The six teeth were made from the springs of a watch.

Où:

This basket gauge comes from a Mi'kmaq community in Nova Scotia.

Quand:

This basket gauge was made at the beginning of the 20th century, that is, shortly before David Ross McCord acquired it in 1914.

Qui:

In the past, men and women participated in the making of baskets -men prepared the splints, while women wove the baskets. Today, both men and women take part in all of the activities associated with basketmaking.

M114.0-1
© Musée McCord
Récipient avec couvercle
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
8.9 x 12.4 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M114.0-1
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

The Admiration of Others

Euro-Canadians were quick to express their admiration for the art of the Mi'kmaq, both for the skill with which it was created and the novelty of the forms and materials. Wood was not the only resource used by the Mi'kmaq: among the more unusual materials were dyed porcupine quills. In 1609, the lawyer and French colonist Marc Lescarbot expressed his admiration for the vibrant colours of dyed porcupine quills, which were unlike anything he had seen at home in France.

Porcupine quills are, in their natural state, white with dark tips. The Mi'kmaq dyed the quills using pigments extracted from a variety of plants. Since the mid-19th century, they have also had access to commercial dyes.

Quoi:

This box is made of birchbark panels sewn together with thread made from spruce root. It is decorated with dyed porcupine quills. The sides, embellished with sweetgrass, are attached with small metal nails. On the top of the lid is an eight-sided star motif.

Où:

Although we know this box is of Mi'kmaq origin, we are not sure if it was made in Quebec, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Quand:

This box was made in the early 20th century.

Qui:

The Mi'kmaq seem to have pioneered the technique of quillwork on birchbark, and their traditional geometric designs are unique.

M973.85.6A
© Musée McCord
Récipient avec couvercle
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1925, 20e siècle
13.3 x 14.9 x 22.5 cm
Don de Mr. Edwin Holgate
M973.85.6A
© Musée McCord

Description:

Les décorations en piquants de porc-épic sur de l'écorce de bouleau sont une forme d'art créée par les Mi'kmaq, dont les motifs géométriques traditionnels sont uniques. Dès le milieu du dix-huitième siècle, les objets décorés de piquants de porc-épic sont devenus des marchandises de prix destinées principalement au marché européen des souvenirs artisanaux. Les piquants de porc-épic, qui sont naturellement blancs et dont les extrémités sont noires, étaient teintés au moyen de teintures artisanales ou commerciales. Les extrémités des piquants étaient ensuite insérées dans de l'écorce de bouleau perforée, que les artisans cousaient en des formes aux goûts des acheteurs européens.

Clefs de l'histoire:

Trade between French colonists and the Mi'kmaq, and in particular the sale by the Mi'kmaq of objects decorated with porcupine quills, increased towards the end of the 17th century. These objects were shipped to France, where they were avidly sought as curiosities. In fact, this type of birchbark box seems to have been made specifically for the European market.

The tips of porcupine quills are inserted into holes in the birchbark, which the artists sewed into different shapes. Geometric motifs such as the ones seen here were frequently used. The meaning of the chevron motif on the sides of the boxes is not known, but it may represent a spruce tree, the symbol of old age and great strength.

Quoi:

These are nesting boxes, each of which fits inside the next largest one. They are decorated with porcupine quills coloured with synthetic aniline dyes (available after 1860), spruce root and sweetgrass-all fashioned into geometric patterns and the eight-sided star, the Mi'kmaq symbol of the sun.

Où:

This set of boxes comes from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

Quand:

These boxes were made at the beginning of the 20th century.

Qui:

The name of the artist who made these boxes is not known, although it was probably a woman. We do know, however, that the set was given to the McCord Museum by the Canadian painter Edwin Headley Holgate (1892-1977), who had a great interest in the First Nations of Canada. Holgate was a member of the Group of Seven.

M93
© Musée McCord
Bonnet de bébé
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1895-1905, 19e siècle ou 20e siècle
13 x 15 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M93
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Materials from Europe

From the early 18th century and the onset of regular trade with Europeans, the Mi'kmaq had access to new materials. Mi'kmaq women were quick to appropriate these materials and to adopt new forms of expression. Silk ribbons and glass beads were soon being used with deer hide, bone and wood. The ease with which Mi'kmaq women moved between traditional and new materials is testimony to their great skill as seamstresses.

Quoi:

This rare baby bonnet is made of six cotton panels stitched together and lovingly decorated with beads and embroidery.

Où:

This baby bonnet comes from Nova Scotia.

Quand:

The baby bonnet was made in the early 20th century.

Qui:

This bonnet was no doubt made by a Mi'kmaq mother for her baby. Its fine embroidery and decorative elements attest to the woman's great skill as a seamstress.

M72
© Musée McCord
Plateau à cartes de visite
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1875-1900, 19e siècle
2.6 x 21.2 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M72
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Part 2 -Material Exchanges: The Growing Tourist Market

The creation of art objects provided the Mi'kmaq with a means to express their identity while also exploring a wide variety of artistic expressions.

Interaction between the Mi'kmaq and Euro-Canadians resulted in mutual surprises and adjustments. For example, the fabrication of art objects became a source of income for the Mi'kmaq. Though the Mi'kmaq had traded decorated objects with Europeans since the time of their earliest contacts, the sale of souvenir art increased rapidly with the rise of tourism in the 19th century. Tourists along the east coast wanted to get a feel for North America: to meet the original inhabitants and, if possible, acquire something to remind them of that encounter. The Mi'kmaq responded by producing objects specifically designed for tourists.

Quoi:

This wide-brimmed tray is designed to receive calling cards. It is made of birchbark and decorated with cotton ribbons, porcupine quills and glass beads.

Où:

This card tray is a Mi'kmaq piece, but we do not know where it was made. Card holders were intended to be placed on a table in the entrance hall of fine homes.

Quand:

This card tray was no doubt made between 1875 and 1900, when the use of calling cards was very fashionable.

Qui:

During the Victorian era, in the 19th century, it was the custom for visitors to leave their cards so that the lady of the house could decide whom she wished to receive. Everything to do with these cards-when they were left as well as their design-was governed by strict rules of etiquette.

M118
© Musée McCord
Pelote à épingles
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1835-1845, 19e siècle
7.1 x 8 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M118
© Musée McCord

Description:

Les objets décorés de piquants de porc-épic insérés dans des écorces de bouleau devinrent des marchandises de prix pour les Mi'kmaqs. Les artistes ajoutèrent à leur répertoire de plus en plus de formes européennes : boîtes à bijoux, cartons à chapeaux, pots à fleurs, soucoupes, abat-jour, corbeilles à papier, couvre-théières, berceaux de poupées et toutes sortes de petits contenants - pour placer des cartes à jouer ou présenter des cartes de visite, conserver des cigares, ranger des lunettes, des montres ou encore des aiguilles.

Clefs de l'histoire:

The sale of souvenirs opened up new opportunities for the Mi'kmaq, enabling them to overcome some of the hardships of living on reserves. For Euro-Canadians, Mi'kmaq objects represented the essence of North America, where the image of Aboriginal people was closely linked to nature. Tourists bought souvenirs hoping to take home with them objects that symbolized the places they had visited. Mi'kmaq objects, whether because their components came from the land, or because of the strong feelings they evoked, satisfied the desire of buyers to have in hand a piece of America.

Pincushions are a good example of the marriage between Mi'kmaq know-how and aesthetics, and the tastes of the Euro-Canadians who purchased them. For women in the Victorian era, pincushions were an essential accessory, a mainstay of their sewing kit, as well as something attractive to look at. Large pincushions were designed to hold long hat pins. A heart-shaped pincushion such as this one might be given to a woman by a friend or gentleman admirer.

Quoi:

This heart-shaped pincushion is made of cotton, porcupine quills, glass beads and silk ribbons. It is stuffed with horse or moose hair.

Où:

This object was made in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

Quand:

This pincushion was made between 1875 and 1900.

Qui:

Tourists bought many of these pincushions as souvenirs.

M2201
© Musée McCord
Dossier de chaise
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1845-1855, 19e siècle
32.5 x 40 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M2201
© Musée McCord

Description:

Les Mi'kmaqs commencèrent dès 1845 à fabriquer des sièges et des dossiers de chaises en piquants de porc-épic et à les vendre soit à des particuliers soit directement à des ébénistes. Par la suite, ces panneaux étaient montés sur des ossatures de chaises. Ces créations plus grandes, qui utilisent de façon intrinsèque l'espace et la couleur, sont des exemples particulièrement réussis de l'art mi'kmaq. Placées dans l'entrée ou dans les salons des maisons élégantes, ces chaises frappantes devaient faire les frais de la conversation et être admirées par tous les visiteurs.

Clefs de l'histoire:

After 1845, the Mi'kmaq began producing larger items intended to be used with chairs, loveseats, tables or even cradles. Panels such as this one, veritable mosaics of coloured porcupine quills and birchbark, were sometimes sold to individuals or to furniture makers for placement right in the frames of tables and chairs.

This chair back is adorned with geometric motifs unique to the Mi'kmaq nation. Note, as well, the heart shape so popular with Europeans and readily adopted by Aboriginal artisans. This back would have been set in a chair destined for a living room or boudoir-the centre of a wealthy Victorian family's social life. A Mi'kmaq chair back would attract the attention of visitors, thus stimulating conversation ... and perhaps envy.

Quoi:

This birchbark panel would have been inserted into the back of a chair. Its heart shape makes it very rare -- only two other similar chair backs are known to exist. It is decorated with porcupine quills coloured using organic dyes.

Où:

It is not known where this chair back was produced. We do know, however, that it was made by a Mi'kmaq artist. David Ross McCord recorded that the item was purchased in Lorette (now Wendake), a Huron-Wendat community. The Huron-Wendats sometimes served as intermediaries for Mi'kmaq artisans.

Quand:

This chair back was made in the mid-19th century.

Qui:

There are only two other known heart-shaped chair backs in existence. It is possible that all three of them were made by the same Mi'kmaq artist.

M973.55.2
© Musée McCord
Chaise
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
16.6 x 8.7 cm
Don de Mrs. J. Evan Church
M973.55.2
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Tiny and Perfect

The Mi'kmaq often travelled great distances to carry on their commerce. Mi'kmaq objects were sold at large vacation resorts and in American and Canadian cities along the east coast, and were even carried back to European cities by returning tourists.

For convenience, Mi'kmaq objects had to be easy to transport for tourists sought things that would fit into their trunks and suitcases. Pincushions, containers, baskets and mocassins were easily packed, with the result that numerous examples of such items are now found in both private and museum collections in Europe and elsewhere.

Mi'kmaq artists also produced miniature reproductions of the larger items to demonstrate their abilities. For example, this tiny chair destined for a doll house was made using the same techniques as those employed in crafting full-size chairs or tables.

Quoi:

The seat of this chair is a panel decorated with porcupine quills. The frame is made of bird's-eye maple.

Où:

This chair comes from New Brunswick.

Quand:

This doll's chair was made between 1875 and 1900.

Qui:

Like the panels for full-size chairs, this one was probably made by a Mi'kmaq woman. The frame of the chair may have been made by a Mi'kmaq artisan or by a Euro-Canadian furniture maker.

M26
© Musée McCord
Modèle de panier
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone : Mi'kmaq ou Malécite
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
0.7 x 0.5 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M26
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Both the Mi'kmaq and tourists shared a taste for miniatures. Small reproductions made it possible to acquire objects that in the original form were too large for easy handling. Tiny and fragile, miniatures were also appreciated for the skill involved in producing an exact, small-scale replica of a larger object.

The person responsible for these baskets, which are just 7 mm in diameter, that is, half the size of a 10-cent coin, was a consummate artist. Wood splints are difficult in themselves to work with, even more so when they are very fine. Here, they are worked to perfection!

Quoi:

These five miniature baskets each measure just under 7 mm in diameter. They are made of wood splints, a material that is both pliable and fragile.

Où:

These miniatures come from Nova Scotia.

Quand:

The baskets were made between 1875 and 1900.

Qui:

The anonymous Mi'kmaq artist who made these baskets was an expert in the art of basketweaving. David Ross McCord noted in his Acquisitions Register that the artist, who was 93 years old in 1914, had made them 35 years before that date for the wife of a navy admiral.

M133
© Musée McCord
Modèle réduit de canot
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1913, 20e siècle
4.1 x 4.1 x 19.6 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M133
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Miniatures were also appreciated as toys, for children big and small -- Among the Mi'kmaq, miniatures also had spiritual significance: they believed that some small-scale replicas had the characteristics and the power of the larger objects. These miniature canoes, for example, are replicas of full-size ones, which were strong enough for use on the ocean and in rivers.

The Mi'kmaq were among the most skilled Aboriginal mariners in Canada. Their canoes were well adapted for use on the open ocean. Mi'kmaq paddlers travelled across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the North Shore, to the Îles de la Madeleine and to the southwest coast of Newfoundland, as well as along the coast of New England.

Quoi:

This miniature canoe of about 20 cm in length is made, like its larger Mi'kmaq counterpart, of birchbark sewn with spruce root. It is decorated with porcupine quills.

Où:

This canoe comes from Nova Scotia.

Quand:

This canoe was made between 1900 and 1913, and was acquired not long afterwards by David Ross McCord.

Qui:

The Mi'kmaq artisans who made full-size canoes often also made the small models. The elements of a canoe were calculated using a measurement system based on the size of certain body parts (a hand's width, an arm's length, etc.)

M95.1
© Musée McCord
Poupée
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1845-1855, 19e siècle
12.5 x 6.5 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M95.1
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Miniatures in the form of dolls played an important role in most Aboriginal cultures, and the Mi'kmaq were no exception. Like miniature canoes, dolls served both as children's toys and sometimes as objects used in healing rituals. On occasion, dolls depicted characters from legends, thus helping to transmit to younger generations the knowledge of their elders.

Aboriginal dolls were very popular as souvenirs, which is not surprising considering the importance of dolls in European culture. Perhaps tourists also purchased dolls because they represented, in miniature, the Aboriginal people encountered during their travels. This doll is dressed in Mi'kmaq clothing and wears a traditional peaked cap.

Quoi:

This doll is made of leather and wool, and wears a traditional Mi'kmaq outfit and peaked cap decorated with silk ribbons and glass beads. The figure of the doll is made from three "fingers" of an old leather glove-an excellent example of the use of recycled materials.

Où:

This doll comes from Nova Scotia.

Quand:

It is believed that this doll was made in the mid-19th century.

Qui:

David Ross McCord wrote in 1914: "This Mic-Mac [...] doll [...] dressed in the Poke and Costume of the tribe [was] made for a child of the Mic-Macs, when she was such. She is now a woman of seventy years of age - thus going back sixty-five years..." This passage reminds us that while McCord was attracted to all items made by Aboriginal people, he was, like many collectors, particularly interested in the oldest examples.

M196
© Musée McCord
Récipient
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Malécite
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
8.1 x 13.7 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M196
© Musée McCord

Description:

C'est au dix-neuvième siècle que les femmes mi'kmaqs et malécites se mettent à la fabrication de menus objets ornés de perles et d'appliques de rubans destinés à la vente. Nombre d'entre eux, comme cette boîte perlée, les couvre-théières ou les petites bourses, n'ont été conçus que pour répondre aux besoins des européens. D'autres, qui étaient utilisés à l'origine par les Malécites et les Mi'kmaqs, comme les poupées, les modèles réduits de canots, les boîtes ou les mocassins, furent vendus comme souvenirs ou achetés par des collectionneurs d'artisanat autochtone.

Clefs de l'histoire:

America in a Box

This box is a prime example of the material exchanges that gave rise to contemporary Mi'kmaq art forms. The pieces of birchbark are sewn together using the root of black spruce, which has been used for this purpose from earliest times. The box is also made using velvet and glass beads, both of which were introduced to North America by Europeans.

The box thus embodies the taste of Victorian-era buyers, who liked containers of all sorts and shapes, and that of the Mi'kmaq, who decorated such containers with the floral and vegetal motifs they so admired.

Commercial exchanges also led to cultural ones. Trade brought the Mi'kmaq into contact not only with Euro-Canadians but also with Aboriginal nations living to the west of them, for example, the Huron-Wendats from Lorette and the Six Nations Iroquois.

Quoi:

This is a box, or rather the remains of one since the bottom no longer exists. It is made of birchbark and covered with black velvet, which was for Aboriginal artisans an expensive fabric. It is decorated with glass beads of various colours as well as with steel and brass beads.

Où:

The box is thought to have originated in one of the Maliseet communities of Quebec.

Quand:

The piece is hard to date, although it was certainly made during the 19th century.

Qui:

The floral beadwork style used on this box indicates that it was made by a Maliseet artist. The Maliseet live near the Mi'kmaq and speak a similar language. There have been frequent exchanges between the two nations throughout their histories.

M3
© Musée McCord
Crucifix
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Malécite
Anonyme - Anonymous
1750-1760, 18e siècle
5.4 x 12.2 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M3
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Materials were not the only thing exchanged between the Mi'kmaq and Europeans: the latter also brought numerous diseases to which the Aboriginal peoples of North America had no natural immunity. As a result of what is now called the "globalization of pathogens", epidemics wiped out entire communities of Mi'kmaq; nonetheless, the people and their identity survived the devastation.

Meetings of the Mi'kmaq and Euro-Canadians also led to discussions about beliefs, customs, world views, superior beings, and society in general.

Quoi:

This crucifix is fashioned from several pieces of bone.

Où:

This crucifix was used in one of the French missions on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, but it is not known if it was made there.

Quand:

In the 17th and 18th centuries, France sent missionaries among the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet. This crucifix was made in the mid-18th century, a period when the French sought favour with the Mi'kmaq and support in their conflicts against the English.

Qui:

This crucifix might be the work of a Mi'kmaq or Maliseet artist, although it might also have been made by a European. Bone was to the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet a traditional material, widely used before the arrival of Europeans.

M18836
© Musée McCord
Manuscrit
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Vers 1790, 18e siècle
33.5 x 21.8 x 1.1 cm
M18836
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

To engage in trade, it is essential that both parties understand each other.

The encounters between the Mi'kmaq and Basque fishermen in the late 16th and early 17th centuries resulted in the emergence of a dialect that was used mainly for doing business.

Aboriginal societies also used marks and symbols to indicate unusual and important events. While watching young Mi'kmaq mark birchbark with pieces of charcoal, French priest Chrestien Leclercq was inspired, in the late 1670s, to invent a hieroglyphic alphabet to teach Catholic hymns and prayers.

The missionaries also tried to learn the Mi'kmaq language. One of them, Father Maillard, confessed that after eight years of study he had not succeeded in mastering the language.

Quoi:

This page is from a manuscript written using hieroglyphic characters developed by French missionaries to teach religion, the lives of the saints and hymns to the Mi'kmaq.

Où:

This prayerbook has had a peripatetic existence, one indication of its great interest. Initially the property of a Mi'kmaq woman who wintered at Île St. Pierre, off the south shore of Newfoundland, it was bought by a Quebecer in 1836, sent to Paris in the first half of the 19th century and, finally, acquired by the McCord Museum.

Quand:

The prayerbook probably dates from the end of the 18th century. Following the departure of French missionaries for their homelands, many works in hieroglyphics were handed down within Mi'kmaq families, who preciously conserved them.

Qui:

In the 1830s, the owner of the prayerbook explained that the prayers were written in the "language of her country" but that she did not read them; instead, she sang them because she knew them by heart. Mi'kmaq knowledge was transmitted orally.

M1868
© Musée McCord
Rosaire
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Malécite
Anonyme - Anonymous
1840-1860, 19e siècle
2 x 60 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M1868
© Musée McCord

Description:

Au tout début, les Malécites et les Mi'kmaqs firent bon accueil aux missionnaires et aux colons qui débarquaient sur leurs rivages. Ils se mirent à se convertir au catholicisme au début du dix-septième siècle, fabriquant des rosaires et des crucifix dans les styles et avec les matériaux traditionnels. Toutefois, ils durent rapidement engager la lutte pour préserver leurs croyances et leur territoire.

Clefs de l'histoire:

Although the Mi'kmaq first welcomed the new arrivals-the colonists, soldiers and missionaries-they quickly realized that they would have to fight to hold on to their land, their culture and their beliefs. "The place where you are, where you are building dwellings... where you want, as it were, to enthrone yourself, this land of which you wish to make yourself now absolute master, this land belongs to me. I have come from it as certainly as the grass, it is the very place of my birth and of my dwelling..." (Statement by Mi'kmaq elders and chiefs to the Governor of Nova Scotia. Letter from Father Maillard to Father du Fau, October 18, 1749, Archives du Séminaire de Québec).

Quoi:

Rosaries are used to guide the recitation of prayers. Each prayer is represented by one of the beads, which in this rosary are made of wood and bone. Several of the bone beads are shaped like a human hand.

Où:

This rosary of Maliseet origin comes from the east coast of Canada.

Quand:

This rosary was made in the mid-19th century.

Qui:

The rosary was created by a Maliseet artist. It is based on those of European origin, made of wood, bone and glass beads, which circulated in Canada in the mid-19th century.

M73.0-40
© Musée McCord
Jeu de hasard
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1875-1900, 19e siècle
28.3 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M73.0-40
© Musée McCord

Description:

Les Mi'kmaqs jouaient déjà, en 1600, à un jeu de hasard appelé « waltes ». On mélangeait les dés circulaires en frappant l'écuelle en bois sur le sol. Des bâtonnets sculptés représentant différentes valeurs permettaient de tenir la marque. Il fallait six dés pour jouer aux waltes mais David Ross McCord en a ici collectionné huit.

Clefs de l'histoire:

The reaction to first contacts was one of surprise and incredulity, and ultimately adaptation to new realities resulting from the arrival in North America of Europeans. Each other's customs were learned, new behaviours were observed and differences and similarities were noted.

The French were not especially surprised to find gambling games among the Mi'kmaq, such as this one called waltes. They were, however, surprised at the apparent calmness of the players: "They are very faithful about paying their gambling debts and never make a fuss or exhibit the least impatience, because, they say, they are playing only for entertainment and to find consolation in their friends." (Chrestien Leclerq, Nouvelle relation de la Gaspésie, p. 560-561).

Waltes is normally played with six tokens (although there are eight in this photograph) that are flipped when the wooden tray is hit against the ground. The sticks are used to keep count of the score.

Quoi:

Waltes is a game of chance. The dice-tokens are made of bone and the tray is of wood. Players hit the tray against the ground, making the dice jump. The game is normally played with six dice.

Où:

The provenance of this game is not known, although it was certainly made somewhere in the Maritime Provinces.

Quand:

Waltes seems to have been around since before the arrival of Europeans, and it is still played to this day.

Qui:

Children young and old enjoy playing waltes. To learn how you can make your own game, click here.

M956.5
© Musée McCord
Coiffure
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Malécite
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
28.5 x 58 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M956.5
© Musée McCord

Description:

Les photographies prises au début du siècle présentent souvent des hommes malécites et mi'kmaqs portant des coiffures de plumes. Celles-ci étaient alors très populaires et certains autochtones s'étaient probablement rendu compte qu'il était plus rentable de s'habiller de cette façon « traditionnelle » pour vendre leurs objets artisanaux. En outre, il se peut que les Malécites et les Mi'kmaqs, se sentant de plus en plus menacés de disparition au sein d'une société majoritaire, aient pu vouloir porter ces costumes - et ce genre de coiffures - pour préserver un signe visible de leur identité autochtone.

Clefs de l'histoire:

The Imaginary "Indian"

In the 19th century, tourists, whether Euro-Canadians or Europeans, were fond of souvenirs representing their travels in North America. Aboriginal objects were especially appreciated as mementos of this adventure. The "Indian" that animated the dreams and imaginations of so many people in the 19th century often wore a feathered headdress.

This type of headgear was probably not worn by the Mi'kmaq before the arrival of Europeans; however, the Mi'kmaq realized that new clients flocked to them when they wore such regalia. They no doubt adopted the style to increase the "visibility" of the artisanal objects they had for sale.

Nevertheless, the affection of the Mi'kmaq for such headdresses should not be underestimated; they provided a means to affirm their Aboriginal identity loudly and clearly in the face of threats to their culture.

Quoi:

This headdress resembles the Glengarry caps worn by some British regiments that served in Canada. The headdress is decorated with ostrich feathers, as well as brass and glass beads.

Où:

This headdress may come from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Quand:

This object was probably made after 1860. It is unlikely that the Mi'kmaq wore this type of headgear before the arrival of Europeans.

Qui:

In this photograph, taken in 1914, we see six dancers wearing headdresses similar to this one. The dancer whose face is unclear because the photograph is damaged, is thought to be Chief Isaac Sack (1855-1930), who was elected the grand chief of the Mi'kmaq in 1917.

M87.2
© Musée McCord
Col
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone : Mi'kmaq ou Malécite
Anonyme - Anonymous
1840-1860, 19e siècle
20.3 x 24.6 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M87.2
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Here is a representation of the mythical "Indian." It is unlikely that the Mi'kmaq wore clothes resembling these in their daily lives, whether before or after the arrival of Europeans. This is probably a parade outfit created to represent, according to the perceptions of those living in the Victorian era, Aboriginal clothing of long ago. In fact, these outfits were likely modelled on the "Indian" on the Nova Scotia coat of arms. Note, for example, the feather headdress.

Public holidays were occasions for the Mi'kmaq to perform their dances, thus affirming their identity to Euro-Canadians. We can see just such an occasion at this event in Shubenacadie.

Quoi:

This is a somewhat unusual dance outfit. It is believed that these garments were created as "traditional" costumes for groups of Mi'kmaq and Maliseet.

Où:

The origin of these outfits is not certain, but they are believed to come from the Maritime Provinces.

Quand:

This outfit may have been made in 1860 on the occasion of the Prince of Wales' visit to eastern Canada.

Qui:

This outfit may have been worn by a Mi'kmaq or Maliseet who took part in performances given for the Prince of Wales in 1860. It is known, however, that similar clothing was worn at various late-19th-century public festivities by the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.

M956.1
© Musée McCord
Manteau
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
68 x 109 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M956.1
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

Please Yourself, Please Others

The Mi'kmaq were always open to new influences from within their own communities, from other Aboriginal groups or from the European newcomers. When they saw an object they liked, they traded for it and made copies, while adapting the item to their tastes. Take the example of this wool coat. Such coats were first acquired by the Mi'kmaq during the fur trade or as gifts at ceremonies with Euro-Canadians. The Mi'kmaq eventually made their own wool coats, like this one, and decorated them with the glass bead motifs that they found so pleasing.

Quoi:

This man's coat is made of wool and decorated with silk ribbons and small glass beads strung on horse hair.

Où:

This coat comes from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

Quand:

After the late 19th century, this type of coat was worn only for important occasions.

Qui:

This man's coat is modelled on the wool coats worn by European military personnel during the 18th century and later acquired by the Mi'kmaq through trade or as gifts.

M10
© Musée McCord
Petit sac pour médaille
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1830-1865, 19e siècle
14.5 x 16.2 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M10
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

All Mi'kmaq objects, whether made for personal use or for sale to European consumers, bore traces of symbols and motifs that held great meaning for their creators. Some motifs were based on observations of the world and its marvels, while others were drawn from the world of dreams and visions. The symbols are considered to be very powerful. One example is the double-curve motif seen on numerous Mi'kmaq works, including this one. Its specific meaning is not known.

Quoi:

This is a pouch or purse made of wool and decorated with silk and glass beads. The double-curve motif is clearly represented.

Où:

Although this bag is of Mi'kmaq origin, its precise provenance is not known.

Quand:

This type of bag was very fashionable in the late 19th century when pockets were eliminated from women's dresses to accommodate the narrower skirt style.

Qui:

Mi'kmaq objects all bear symbols and motifs that held great meaning for their makers.

M8371.8
© Musée McCord
Coiffe en pointe
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1845-1855, 19e siècle
37.4 x 21.7 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M8371.8
© Musée McCord

Description:

Les femmes mi'kmaqs fabriquèrent et portèrent ces coiffes en pointe uniques tout au long des dix-huitième et dix-neuvième siècles. Celles-ci étaient traditionnellement remises aux jeunes filles lorsqu'elles devenaient adultes. Bien que leur origine soit incertaine, elles datent possiblement d'avant l'arrivée des Européens, mais il se peut aussi qu'elles aient été inspirées des coiffes de femmes de la fin du quinzième siècle offertes aux Mi'kmaqs par les marchands basques ou français. Les femmes mi'kmaqs utilisaient des appliques de ruban de soie pour recréer les motifs traditionnels géométriques, reprenant ceux qu'elles peignaient autrefois sur les vêtements de peau.

Clefs de l'histoire:

The origin of this type of headgear is not known. Perhaps these caps existed before the arrival of Europeans; or maybe they were based on the European caps brought by the Basque and French fishermen who began frequenting the region in the late 15th century. By the 19th century, these caps were a well-established part of Mi'kmaq culture, as this watercolour shows.

The McCord Museum has several such caps. Despite their similarity in form and materials, each one is different and unique-testimony to the great diversity of artistic expression of Mi'kmaq artists.

Quoi:

This peaked cap is decorated with glass beads strung on horse hair and then sewn to the wool. The double-curve motif is clearly visible.

Où:

It is not known whether this cap was made in Quebec, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Quand:

Although this cap likely dates from the mid-19th century, the earliest appearance of this type of headgear is not known.

Qui:

Mi'kmaq women made and wore these caps. They were given to young girls when they reached adulthood.

M956.2-3
© Musée McCord
Jambières
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1865-1900, 19e siècle
23.5 x 65 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M956.2-3
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

There are several variations to the double-curve motif found in the artwork of numerous Aboriginal nations of the Eastern Woodlands region. Among the Mi'kmaq, the motif often has a mark in the shape of a "T" at the centre.

The double-curve motif is frequently represented using glass beads, much-desired trade items that were also given to the Mi'kmaq as gifts by Europeans at official gatherings. Beads came in various colours and sizes, and were sometimes so small that the user first had to string them on horse hair and then sew these rows to the garment.

Quoi:

Leggings are woolen tubes worn to keep the legs warm and protected. These leggings are decorated with silk ribbons and glass beads strung on horse hair.

Où:

These leggings come from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Quand:

The leggings were made in the late 19th century.

Qui:

We know very little about the artists who made these objects. David Ross McCord, who collected them between 1913 and 1916, did not record the makers' names. Nevertheless, Mi'kmaq clothing was probably made by women.

ACC6101
© Musée McCord
Couvre-théière
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1870-1890, 19e siècle
33.5 x 46 cm
Don de Mrs. Smallwood
ACC6101
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

This tea cosy is a good example of the many ways in which the Mi'kmaq expressed the richness of their culture. This is an object made by a Mi'kmaq woman specifically for the Euro-Canadian market, and it would have been found in a home in Montreal, Halifax or even in Maine. Although it uses materials obtained through contact with Europeans, it is definitely a Mi'kmaq creation. The artist who decorated this tea cosy did so according to her taste and aesthetic preferences, using the double-curve motif and beading techniques long associated with Aboriginal peoples.

Quoi:

This is a woolen tea cosy, decorated with glass beads in a double-curve motif.

Où:

It is not known where this object was created, although it is of Mi'kmaq origin.

Quand:

This tea cosy was probably made between 1875 and 1900. Tea cosies were introduced as commonplace objects around the mid-19th century.

Qui:

In the 19th century, Euro-Canadian collectors did not always recognize the interest of recording the names of the artists who made objects that they acquired. Unfortunately, David Ross McCord, who purchased this tea cosy, was no exception.

M8371.1
© Musée McCord
Veste
Forêts de l'Est
Autochtone: Mi'kmaq
Anonyme - Anonymous
1845-1855, 19e siècle
54 x 45.5 cm
Don de Mr. David Ross McCord
M8371.1
© Musée McCord

Description:

Dès les années 1600, les Mi'kmaqs pouvaient obtenir des biens de traite européens tels que des tissus de laine, des couvertures, du fil, des aiguilles ou des perles de verre. Les femmes mi'kmaqs ne prirent guère de temps à remplacer les vêtements de peau par des vêtements d'un nouveau style grâce à ces nouveaux matériaux. Elles créèrent un costume particulier, réservé aux occasions spéciales, qui consistait en une jupe de laine agrémentée d'une sorte de boléro. Ces vêtements étaient ornés de rubans de soie et de perles de verre.

Clefs de l'histoire:

Mi'kmaq artists drew inspiration from diverse sources and created garments for a range of purposes - to be worn by a Mi'kmaq child or purchased by a European and carried to a far off land. Nevertheless, all historic Mi'kmaq clothing embodies a part of the artist who created them and a memory of the Mi'kmaq person who originally wore them.

Artists leave a part of themselves in each object they create. This heritage continues to inspire Mi'kmaq artists working today. A case in point is this garment, which evokes for today's viewers, whether Mi'kmaq or Euro-Canadian, not only the history of its use but also the skilled touch of the Mi'kmaq woman who carefully stitched the silk ribbon border.

Quoi:

This style of wool skirt and bolero jacket was worn by Mi'kmaq women as early as the 1700s. The skirt is decorated with silk ribbon appliqué in traditional geometric motifs that are reminiscent of those painted on earlier hide clothing.

Où:

Although this garment is Mi'kmaq in origin, we do not know where it was made.

Quand:

This garment was made in the mid-19th century. At that time, such outfits were worn for special occasions.

Qui:

Traditionally, it was Mi'kmaq women who made the clothing for their families. They would also have sewn this outfit, which was intended for special occasions.

Conclusion:

The Art of Souvenir Art

Aboriginal souvenir objects were for many years overlooked by experts, who regarded them as a minor form of artistic expression. In so doing, they failed to recognize that the period during which these objects were made, from the 17th century to the present, is as much a part of Mi'kmaq and Aboriginal history as the time that preceded European contact. In fact, souvenir objects are testimony to the remarkable creativity of the Mi'kmaq in the face of the enormous changes that followed the arrival of Europeans in North America.

By combining traditional expertise and contemporary experience, the Mi'kmaq created new forms of artistic expression. The production of souvenirs became a favoured means of interaction between the Mi'kmaq and Euro-Canadians. These Mi'kmaq objects were conceived to respond to Victorian tastes, but they in turn influenced those tastes. By offering their unique shapes, motifs and materials to Euro-Canadians, Mi'kmaq artists affirmed the presence and identity of their people. Moreover, beyond material considerations, each object personifies a Mi'kmaq artist, reminding us even today that "souvenirs" convey the history of an era and the heritage of a people.


Bibliography



This tour was written using research and texts from Marks of the Mi'gmaq Nation, an exhibition produced by the McCord Museum in collaboration with the Listiguj Arts and Cultural Centre, Listuguj, QC. Curators for the exhibition were Moira McCaffrey, Director of Research and Exhibitions, McCord Musem, and Ruth Whitehead, Guest Curator, Nova Scotia Museum.

Books

Holmes Whitehead, Ruth. A Brief Glimpse of Micmac Life: Objects from the McCord Collection / Coup d'oeil sur la vie des Micmacs : objets de la collection du McCord. Wrapped in the Colours of the Earth - Cultural Heritage of the First Nations / Aux couleurs de la Terre - Héritage culturel des premières nations. Montreal: McCord Museum, 1992.

---. Elitekey: Micmac Material Culture from 1600 AD to the Present. Halifax: Nova Scotia Museum, 1980.

---. Micmac Quillwork: Micmac Indian Techniques of Porcupine Quill Decoration, 1650-1950. Halifax: Nova Scotia Museum, 1982.

Le Clercq, Chrestien. Nouvelle relation de la Gaspésie. Montréal : Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1999.

Lescarbot, Marc. Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (...). Paris: Adrian Perier, 1617.

Meyer, Jean. L'Europe et la conquête du monde : XVIe-XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Armand Colin, 1975.

Phillips, Ruth B. Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900. Seattle/Montreal: University of Washington Press / McGill-Queen's University Press, 1998.

Journals

Bakker, P. "The Language of the Coast Tribes is Half Basque: A Basque-American Pidgin in Use between Europeans and Native Americans in North America ca. 1540- ca. 1640." Anthropological Linguistics vol. 31, no. 3-4 (1989).

Desbarats, C. "The Cost of Early Canada's Native Alliances: Reality and Scarcity's Rhetoric." The William and Mary Quarterly 3rd series, vol. LII, no. 4 (October 1995).

The Halifax Reporter. Halifax: 11 August 1860.

« Lettres de l'Abbé Maillard sur les missions de l'Acadie et particulièrement sur les missions micmaques. » Soirées canadiennes, 1863.

Archives

Déclarations des aînés mi'kmaq au gouverneur de Halifax. Lettre de l'abbé Maillard à l'abbé du Fau, 18 octobre 1749, Archives du Séminaire de Québec.

Count Mulgrave to James Paul. 6 August 1860, Nova Scotia Museum, Printed Matter File.

Notes of Harry Piers. December 1924, Nova Scotia Museum, Printed Matter File.

Web Pages

Mi'kmaq Resource Guide. Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management:
http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsarm/virtual/mikmaq/

Mi'kmaq Portraits Collection. Nova Scotia Museum:
http://museum.gov.ns.ca/mikmaq/

Hudson Museum, University of Maine:
http://www.umaine.edu/hudsonmuseum

Symbols of the Nova Scotia Legislature:
http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/HOUSE_OF_ASSEMBLY/Symbols/


© Musée McCord Museum