New Internationalist

Healing Stories - A Celebration of Mi’kmaq Women

Issue 395

On October 14, 2006, ‘Healing Stories: A Celebration of Mi’kmaq Women’ was held on the First Nations Reserve in Bear River, Nova Scotia. The event was sponsored by the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE).

Click here to listen to the audio Healing Stories in MP3 format.

Five Mi’kmaq (MIG-maw) women are playing a large buffalo-hide drum and singing the Mi’kmaq Honour Song. The audience is asked to stand.

For more than a century criteria for aboriginal status in Canada have not been established by aboriginal peoples themselves but by the federal government. About 24,000 women now living formerly lost their status by marrying nonnatives; status was in turn denied to their children. In 1985, following years of legal challenges and proposals for reform (Furi & Wherrett 2003), Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Indian Act, restored native status to women previously disenfranchised through marriage. (Manyfingers 1986)

What is amazing about these women is their sheer relentlessness. Their lives are filled with meetings, proposals, and plans of action. Activism is not for them a choice but a condition for survival. Recently Mi’kmaq women have been working to secure native status for their children; having previously disregarded bloodlines, the government currently deprives natives of status by using bloodline criteria to dictate acceptable ratios of native ancestry.

After much concerted effort on the part of the women on this reserve, Elder Agnes Potter’s grandchildren have just been granted native status. Agnes leads the singing. It is the first time this buffalo hide drum has ever been played publicly, the first time it has been played by a group of women, and the first time any one of these women has drummed in an all-female circle. This is a celebration of years of healing and victory, and it’s not over.

Healing Stories - Audio (mp3)

All three of the women speakers are residents of the Bear River First Nations Reserve in Bear River, Nova Scotia. Click the links below to listen to the audio.

Healing 6
A group of six Mi’kmaq women, including Sherry Pictou and Wanda Finigan, play the buffalo drum and sing the ‘Mi’kmaq Honour Song’, elder Agnes Potter leading. Sherry Pictou asks the audience to be seated, welcomes them to the celebration, and talks about the Mi’kmaq cultural centre.

Healing 5
Wanda Finigan, Mi’kmaq cultural interpreter, discusses the role of women in traditional Mi’kmaq culture.

Healing 4
Wanda Finigan plays her hand drum and sings the ‘Gathering Song’, which summons the ancestors of everyone in the room to the feast. She plays several other traditional songs.

Healing 1
Agnes Potter, elder, Bear River First Nations, Nova Scotia, talks about the sweetgrass ceremony, and recites a woman’s prayer written by Alison Recollect. She prays a blessing on the present celebration, on the Mi’kmaq community, the ancestors, and those present.

Healing 3
Wanda Finigan introduces Sherry Pictou, band councillor and former chief. Sherry talks about how discouraged she has been by local press coverage of native issues, past and present, the importance of talking back, the struggle for equality, and the oppressive nature of the Canadian Indian Act.

Healing 2
Sherry Pictou elaborates on the absurdity of rules imposed by the Indian Act. She answers questions from the audience.

  1. Furi, M., & Wherrett, J. (revised 2003). Indian status and band membership issues. Parliamentary Research Branch, Library of Parliament. Retrieved 31 Oct 2006 from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/bp410-e.pdf
  2. Manyfingers Jr., M. (1986). Determination of Indian band membership: An examination of political will. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies VI, 1: pp. 65-75. Retrieved 30 October 2006 from: http://www.brandonu.ca/Library/CJNS/6.1/manyfingers.pdf

Wanda Waterman St. Louis
First International Rights only

PO Box 48 Bear River NS BOS 1BO
Phone & Fax (902) 467-0959
wandastlouis@ns.sympatico.ca

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