Wela’lioq. Thank you to the Mi’kmaw people and to their ancestors.
Thank you for being at our side at the darkest hour of my people, the Grand Dérangement (Great Upheaval), also known as the Acadian Deportation.
I am alive today because of the Mi’kmaq. I want to thank them. I owe them my life and that is a debt I cannot possibly repay.
I was not there in September 1755 in Grand-Pré. I can only imagine the horror of families, husbands and wives, and their children torn asunder. Men, embarked on vessels mandated by the British Crown, must say good bye to their beloved Acadie. Did they know then that they would never be able to return to the land that their ancestors had harvested for more than a century?
Roots and rapture
My Acadian ancestors had decided, still reeling from the Utrecht Treaty of 1713, that they would accept British rule and become citizens of the Crown. They would not, however, pledge allegiance nor take up arms either for the Crown or against their enemies. They would not fight against their brothers and sisters of New France nor their indigenous friends who had welcomed them on their land. These brave Acadians were derided as French Neutrals.
I would like to think that my ancestors were among the first European pacifists in North America. What we do know, from historical record, is that too many Acadians paid for this bravery with their lives. They were dispossessed and deported, long before the mass exoduses or brutal European wars that would scar the 20th century.
Acadians are a remarkable but oft-forgotten people, a footnote in the history books. They are also ignored by too many who do not know the depth of despair that marred my people for centuries. If you see a proud Acadian woman or man today, remember that their ancestors were but a shell of themselves in the years leading up to and soon after the Conquête of 1759.
Exodus and safe haven
And why are there Acadians today in Atlantic Canada and beyond? It is because of the Mi’kmaq who took us in while the British chased after us, seeking to deport as many Acadians as they could. There were skirmishes and the Acadians and Mi’kmaq fought back. The Abenaki and probably others like the Maliseet, or as they refer to themselves Wolastoqiyik, were also involved, but with little result.
History was not on our side, and the only thing to do was to retreat. Children, women and men turned back into the waiting arms of the Mi’kmaq. Brave Indigenous men and women protected these displaced Acadians. They managed to welcome many of those who fled, who were unwittingly a part of this mass exodus. All of Acadie was affected. A whole nation was ripped from a land they had come to love and cherish.
I do not resent the British nor their descendants who have become my fellow citizens. Acknowledging the past, does not mean that we must let horrific acts become a part of who we are today. We remember, we honour, we forgive, if we can. We accept and move forward, together.
But the sad history of my people pales in comparison with the longstanding suffering that the Indigenous peoples in Canada have endured since and live through even today.
This land was not ours. It was Mi’kmaw land; it still is. They had lived here many thousands of years before Champlain ever imagined crossing a vast Atlantic Ocean in search of new land and the fur trade. But, true to themselves and their ways, the Mi’kmaq and other Indigenous peoples welcomed Champlain in 1604 as well as the Acadians who came in increasing numbers after 1630.
Debt of a lifetime
I can only speculate as to how it really happened. How did Acadians managed to escape their shackles? How long did the Mi’kmaq provide safe haven for so many of them? Who was it that prevented me from becoming a Cajun? Who saved the lives of my ancestors? I will never know, but chances are that their descendants have been living beside me all along.
I have never had the courage or the mental fortitude to thank the Mi’kmaw people at large, much less converse with a real person. With whom do I speak to? Who would even listen? If I cannot even say it to one person, how do I thank an entire people?
The Mi’kmaq form a proud nation. Much like mine, theirs has been built through the hard work and determination of women and men who stuck together, who forged ahead despite impossible odds. We are the sum of our life experiences but also of events that are beyond our control.
My life is theirs, but I am ashamed of the way we have treated the Mi’kmaq. We have dispossessed them of their land, their livelihood, their ways, their dignity. History teaches us that too many injustices have been brought to bear on such a generous and welcoming people.
Earth as lifeblood
This parcel of land on Mother Earth that they chose to inhabit is majestic. From Cape Breton Island (Unama’ki), along the Nova Scotia Coastline to the Annapolis Valley (the hub of Acadian life in the early 18th century); from the Saint John (Wolostok) River watershed of the Maliseet to that of the Aboujagane River, from the now Acadian Peninsula to the shores of Gaspesia. We should, to honour their language, say Gespe’g. This word is derived from gespaqami’g, which means « where the world ends ». 1This vast territory and the waters surrounding this land was and is their home. We should all learn to say it with respect and deference: Mi’kmaq, the people; Mi’kma’ki, the land; Mi’kmewei, pertaining to or belonging to the Mi’kmaq.
They had welcomed Acadians on their land four centuries ago. They had provided us with shelter, food, and many survival techniques that had been handed down to them for countless generations. They still had a place for us alongside them when, decades after the Grand Dérangement, Acadians returned home to settle anew. Again, the Mi’kmaq shared their land and their ways with us.
In this unforgiving land that was to become Canada, Indigenous peoples taught us to survive and to live off of the land. They had given us back our humanity at a time when being alone with nature could become a death sentence. They shared traditional medicines, and became our friends.
But time has brought us further and further apart when we should have stuck together all along. A small gap seems to have grown into a great divide, pulling us further apart. It is tragic that the Mi’kmaq and Acadians have forgotten the strength of the friendship that had been forged between them in the past. Our shared history is seldom spoken of in public, much less understood by our contemporaries.
How have we, as Canadians, repaid them? We insult their intelligence. We have robbed them of almost all that they have. We have cornered them into small swatches of land that cannot compare to the vast riches of the land, and water, and nature that they lived with in harmony and breathed in for millennia, well before European settlements.
And now, my Acadian compatriots vastly outnumber the Mi’kmaq but do not always come to their aid. Some do, with dedication and vigour, but the task at hand is overwhelming.
Our longstanding friendship with the Mi’kmaq should be a living testament today. Acadians should stand with them. Their struggles are also ours. Their plight is as important as ours was in 1755. We should all stand tall, together.
So thank you to the Mi’kmaq, to each and every one of you: Wela’lioq. May this blessed Mi’kma’ki you have shared with me and my ancestors be truly yours again one day.
I would hope that you, in your welcoming nature, would continue to accept that your Acadians friends live beside you, stand with you, and share in your wisdom, much as your ancestors have done with mine in the past.
The descendant of Michel R. and Madeleine B., on the paternal side; and of Michel B. and Michelle A., on the maternal side.
Ricky G. RICHARD
Originally published on Ricky G. Richard’s blog D’Acadie at d’ailleurs, republished on the NS Advocate site with his kind permission.
You may consult the following online Mi’kmaq dictionary : mikmaqonline.org. An earlier version of Wela’lioq: Acadian letter to the Mi’kmaq was published in the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Nations News, October 2018, pages 21-22.
See also: History of Halifax: A Mi’kmaw perspective
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Ricky Richard, thank you for a wonderful post about our Acadian origins and ancestors. I am so proud that the sister, (Madeleine Blanchard Richard) of my ancestor, Martin Blanchard, was the wife of your ancestor Michel Richard.
This a very good article pointing out the help that indigenous peoples gave to the Acadians in Canada,and giving thanks to them . We must also remember the indigenous peoples of the east coast of America, and the still ongoing sad situations that they continue to suffer at the hands of our great nation .
Thank you Ricky for your gratitude so well expressed . I, too am a descendant of Michel Richard.maMa
This is our truth. We would not exist without the Mi’kmaq. We are connected always and should be friends always. Honour our ancestors, Acadienne et Mi’kmaq.
I also applaud this letter and have the same sentiments. Our Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters had our ancestors backs when most would have had second thoughts when realizing the battle they were about to involve themselves with against British to aid friends, neighbors and family. .. wela’lin
Wela’lin (Thank You) Ricky for your letter to Mik’maq people, from my ancestors and myself, I say Weliaq (your welcome). It is nice to see that there are educated people out there.
Thank you! Wela’lin!
A very good piece of writing. Thank you for that and thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us. They are well appreciated by us Mi’kmaq.
Thank you so much for this. With much gratitude and respect I bow to the Mi’kmaq people. Thank you.
Welalioq for this letter which explains Acadian history in Mi’kmaki. I seriously think that this intense history you wrote in this letter should be shared with all the Acadians today. This history also needs to be taught to all people of Acadian descent. This history and our treaties should be mandated in your Acadian schools so your future generations will understand that we are all Treaty People.
We as the Mi’kmaw Nation know our history and the significance of our treaties. If your children were educated in their histories and treaties then we would definitely have a more peaceful coexistence as Treaty People in our traditional Mi’kmaq Territory. The original intent of our ‘Peace and Friendship’ was to live in peace and harmony on our lands and sea with each other.
So, I call upon you to stand up for your beliefs as stated in your letter and please ensure that ‘Treaty Education ‘ be implemented in your provincial Acadian schools . Your letter should be sent to your provincial leaders and the Nova Scotia Department of Education so they can start the process of Treaty education in your schools.
I am aboriginal to and I truly find what is said about the Mi’kmaq people and the acadien people is so very true , Thank you very much
Thank you for reminding us of the debt of gratitude we owe to the Mi’kmaq people. Let’s hope that going forward we can all learn to live in harmony by sharing in the fruits of our land.
Thank you for this incredible letter of gratitude to the Mi’ Kmaq tribe. Truly, as a descendant of Philip Mius D’Etremonte, I quite possibly would not be here… We should stand behind and support all native Americans living in squalor in North America.
A heart felt Thank You from Cape Breton. I am so very sorry for all the upheaval non natives are causing. I will continue to fight and stand up for our Indigenous People and advocate for better conditions and treatment.
Thanks to the Mi’kmaq people for helping my distant relatives during the deportation. Many blessings to you all.
Thanks for this. Only recently has my family learned we are of the Metís and it was these blessed peoples who saved my ancestors. I now Le Brun of the family Brun, at that time Antoine Brun, son of Sebastien Brun, and his wife Françoise Comeau. My family, like many, settled in Lowell, MA in the 1800’s. I am learning the stories, hoping to find more – my family didn’t carry them down to us. Thank you isn’t enough…how to help?
The same white descendants the Micmac sheltered now try to deny Micmac sovereignty, destroy their godgiven birthright to hunt, fish and lobster, burn their and sink their boats, cut their lobster traps, threaten them with more violence and genocide, cut them out of their resources and their only lively hoods out of jealousy, spite and resentment! It’s disgusting how they persecute them for daring not to disappear and vanish so they don’t have a reminder of the mass genocide they perpetuated against them. So much for gratitude and grace. The settler hates the indigenous people for the simple reason that they are the only indigenous people of the land. These colonial settlers are now trying to self-Indigenize themselves, even though they have no indigenous ancestors, or have one detribalized Native ancestor from 400 years past. Even though their ancestors have never lived as indigenous people but colonizers.
Thank you very much , welalin, it lightens my heavy heart at this time of hardship. I’ve always known and loved Acadien people. I married one. Thank you for those kind words of truth, as Mi’gmaq people we are generous and loving and we value our children the utmost love and it tears me apart and breaks me to hear that so many of our children never returned home to their families .As Mi’gmaq people we have so much in common with the Acadiens, our family valves, our hard working ethics, our traditional medicine and our love and respect for the land.
As a descendant of Michel and Anne Marie (Cormier) Haché dit Gallant, I am forever indebted to those who assisted and protected my ancestors who fled to Isle St. Jean, then to Caraquet, and, ultimately, to the Adirondacks.
I have read that François Haché, with some brothers and all their families, fled to, and hid out in, Rustico in 1757. They were refugees who were, no doubt, aided by indigenous peoples.
I owe these helpers, these friends, my life.
Deep appreciation to Mr. Richard for his excellent recognition of the Mi’kmaq who saved countless Acadians including our own blood relatives.
Great historical stewardship, let this article remind us all how fortunate we are to have been cared for and saved by the Mi’kmaq.