Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Micmac Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[Further information on the Micmacs may be found in the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of North American Indians and at the Native American Languages' site]



Micmac (Migmak, 'allies' ; Nipmak, ' our allies.' - Hewitt). The French called them Souriquois. An important Algonquian tribe that occupied Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Prince Edward ids., the N. portion of New Brunswick, and probably points in S. and.W. Newfoundland . While their neighbours the Abnaki have close linguistic relations with the Algonquian tribes of the Great lakes , the Micmac seem to have almost as distant a relation to the group as the Algonquians of the plains (W. Jones). If Schoolcraft's supposition be correct, the Micmac must have been among the first Indians of the N. E. coast encountered by Europeans, as he thinks they were visited by Sebastian Cabot in 1497, and that the 3 natives he took to England were of this tribe. Kohl believes that those captured by Cortereal in 1501 and taken to Europe were Micmac. Most of the early voyagers to this region speak of the great numbers of Indians on the N. coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick , and of their fierce and warlike character. They early became friends of the French, a friendship which was lasting and which the English -   after the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, by which Acadia was ceded to them - found impossible to have transferred to themselves for nearly half a century. Their hostility to the English prevented for a long time any serious attempts at establishing British settlements on the N. coast of Nova Scotia and S. and E. coasts of New Brunswick , for although a treaty of peace was concluded with them in 1760, it was not until 1779 that disputes and difficulties with the Micmac ceased. In the early wars on the New England frontier the Cape Sable Micmac were especially noted.


The missionary Biard, who, in his Relation of 1610, gives a somewhat full account of the habits and characteristics of the Micmac and adjacent tribes, speaks in perhaps rather too favourable terms of them. He says: "You could not distinguish the young men from the girls, except in their way of wearing their belts. For the women are girdled both above and below the stomach and are less nude than the men .... Their clothes are trimmed with leather lace, which the women curry on the side that is not hairy. They often curry both sides of elk skin, like our buff skin, then variegate it very prettily with paint put on in a lace pattern, and make gowns of it; from the same leather they make their shoes and strings. The men do not wear trousers. they wear only a cloth to cover their nakedness." Their dwellings were usually the ordinary conical wigwams covered with bark, skins, or matting. Biard says that "in summer the shape of their houses is changed; for they are broad and long that they may have more air." There is an evident attempt to show these summer bowers in the map of Jacomo di Gastaldi, made about 1550, given in vol. III of some of the editions of Ramusio. Their government was similar to that of the New England Indians; polygamy was not common, though practised to some extent by the chiefs; they were expert canoemen, and drew much of their subsistence from the waters. Cultivation of the soil was very limited, if practised at all by them, when first encountered by the whites. Biard says they did not till the soil in his day.


According to Rand ( Micmac First Reading Book, 1875), they divided their country, which they called Megumage, into 7 districts, the head chief living in the Cape Breton district. The other six were Pictou, Memramcook, Restigouche, Eskegawaage, Shubenacadie, and Annapolis. The first three of these formed a group known as Siguniktawak; the other three formed another group known as Kespoogwit. In 1760 the Micmac bands or villages were given as Le Have, Miramichi, Tabogimkik, Pohomoosh, Gediak (Shediac), Pictou, Kashpugowitk (Kespoogwit), Chignecto, Isle of St. Johns, (Prince Edward id.), Nalkitgoniash, Cape Breton, Minas, Chigabennakadik (Shubenacadie), Keshpugowitk (Kespoogwit, duplicated), and Rishebouctou (Richibucto). The Gaspesians are a band of Micmac differing somewhat in dialect from the rest of the tribe.


In 1611 Biard estimated the Micmac at 3,000 to 3,500. In 1760 they were reported at nearly 3,000, but had been lately much wasted by sickness. In 1766 they were again estimated at 3,500; in 1880 they were officially reported at 3,892, and in 1884 at 4,037. Of these, 2,197 were in Nova Scotia, 933 in New Brunswick , 615 in Quebec, and 292 on Prince Edward id. In 1911, according to the Report of Canadian Indian Affairs , they numbered 2,941, of ,whom 423 were in Quebec province, 1,046 in New Brunswick, 2,026 in Nova Scotia, and 292 on Prince Edward id. The number in Newfoundland is not known.


The Micmac villages are as follows: Antigonish (?), Beaubassin (mission), Boat Harbour, Chignecto, Eskasoni, Indian Village, Isle of St. Johns, Kespoogwit, Kigicapigiak, Lahave, Maria, Minas, Miramichi, Nalkitgoniash, Nipisiguit, Pictou, Pohomoosh, Restigouche, Richibucto, Rocky Point, Shediac, Shubenacadie, and Tabogimkik.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 289-290.




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College