Season 2: Episode 2 | Sabawaelnu | Mi'kmaq Peoples

Table of Contents 

 The Mi'kmaq Peoples Call to Action Sabawaelnu: The Half-Way People Resources

The Mi'maq Peoples


The traditional territory of the Mi’Kmaq people spans the Atlantic region of Canada, in particular the coastal region of what is now called Gaspé and the Maritime Provinces east of the Saint John River. They have also been thought to have inhabited parts of Newfoundland and the state of Maine. These ancestral lands are known as Mi’kma’ki, and are further divided into seven districts: 

  1. Kespukwitk
  2. Sipekni'katik
  3. Eskikewa;kik
  4. Unama'kik
  5. Epekwitk aq Piktuk
  6. Siknikt
  7. And, Kespek



The Mi’kmaq peoples are known to have inhabited these lands for over eleven thousand years. This area is made up of all Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and large areas of New Brunswick, the Gaspé Peninsula and Newfoundland. And, commonly, they learned about their culture, traditions and medicine through oral tradition.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of archaeological information about the late pre-contact period in the Maritimes. It is difficult to describe the Mi’kmaq culture before the arrival of the European colonizers. What we do know is they were seasonally nomadic. In the winter, they hunted caribou, mouse, and small game, and lived in conical wikiups(or wigwams) covered in birch bark or skins. In the summer they gathered shellfish, hunted seals, and fished. They lived in varying oblong wigwams (which were relatively open-air). Clothing-wise, they were similar to those of other northeast nations, such as robes made of fur. The men typically wore loincloths, and the women wore ornamented dresses with ample amounts of fringe.

They’re social and political lives we’re flexible, and loosely organized (with an emphasis on kin relations). They were part of the Abenaki Confederacy, a group of Algonquian speaking tribes allied in mutual hostility against the Iroquois Confederacy.


The Mi’kmaq were among the first peoples in North America to be colonized, particularly by the French. As a result they suffered depopulation and scorpio-cultural disruption. The Europeans were unclean and brought their diseases with them, unfortunately, the First Nations immune systems were not prepared for what was imported. During these times, the Mi’kmaq lost around half of their population, and estimate 15 to 16 hundred people.

They also participated in the fur trade by serving as intermediaries between Europeans and groups farther west. This resulted in fur-bearing animals quickly becoming scarce and altered the lifestyle of the Mi’kmaq. They became focused on trapping and trading furs, rather than subsistence hunting and gathering.

With the prolonged conflict between the French and British empires, the Mi’kmaq were often pulled into fray. They were largely allied with the French, who had an established settlement across Acadia until the 18th century. They would even travel south to help raid the New England frontiers.

The Mi’kmaq had signed several treaties from 1726, 1749, 1752, and from 1760-61. These were followed by two treaties that secured alliances during the American Revolution, known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties. The treaty that was signed in 1726 was the foundation for the subsequent treaties. This recognized the rights of the Mi’kmaq, and formed the basis for modern treaty claims and re-negotiations.

In 1763, The Royal Proclamation established Indigenous rights in much of Canada. However, it didn’t mention the Maritime colonies, and so the post-treaty colonizers ignored and were ignorant of the Mi’kmaq rights. In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the Mi’kmaq and the Crown have a historic relationship. Held annually on October 1st, is Treaty Day. Which marks the beginning of Mi’kmaq History Month in Nova Scotia. As proclaimed in 1993 by then Premier John Savage and Mi'kmaq Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy. It’s purpose is to help bring awareness about the Mi'kmaq culture and heritage.


Like nêhiyawêwin, the language of the Cree peoples, Mi’kmaq is a member of the Algonquian language family. Their Algonquian dialect differs greatly from that of their neighbours, it’s thought that the Mi’kmaq settled the area later than other tribes in the region.

Of the Eastern Algonquian languages, it is the one with the greatest chance of survival. However with only an estimate eight thousand eight hundred seventy speakers in Canada in 2017, mik’mawi’simk remains at serious risk of language death.

This week's phrase is:

 It's windy... Weju'sƗk.

Call to Action

Since time, immemorial Indigenous nations around the world have lived in harmony with the land - hunting, fishing, and harvesting everything they need to survive while respecting the delicate balance of nature. As a result, Indigenous foodways are some of the most sustainable food systems in the world.

When colonists first arrived in Mi’kmaq territories, they negotiated what are considered Peace and Friendship Treaties. These affirmed the rights of the Mi’kmaq [peoples to continue supporting their communities in the ways they always had. These rights are further upheld under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and by the Supreme Court decision of R v. Marshall in 1999. The courts determined that Don Marshall Jr. had not violated the law when he fished for eels and sold them outside the prescribed season without a deferral license. This decision cited Marshall’s Mi’kmaq treaty rights to derive a moderate livelihood from his territory.

On September 17th 2020, the 21st anniversary of this decision, Sipekne’katik First Nation exercised their treaty rights by launching a self-regulated lobster fishery. The response was an explosion of violence from non-Indigenous commercial fishermen. They’re claiming that the Indigenous fishing operation is a risk to conservation (even though it operated at a fraction of the capacity of the commercial fisheries), these fishermen protested this perceived wrongdoing by forming a violent mob and storming two Mi’kmaq lobster facilities. They destroyed facility property, set a vehicle on fire, threatened Indigenous fishermen with physical violence (including threatening to burn down a facility while they were locked inside), and in one shocking display of irony, destroyed countless stocks of lobster. Putting them to waste by damaging their oxygen supply and temperature regulation devices, stealing them, and throwing them on the street to die, while for the most part, the RCMP stood by watching.

As the Sipekne’katik fishery prepares to reopen this summer, the Federal Government has elected not to support the Mi’kmaq in asserting their treaty rights, stating they will only allow the Mi’kmaq to fish their own ancestral territory with Federal licenses during the prescribed season. They have also stated that they will be providing funding for heavier police presence in the area, and arranging for the Department of Fisheries Officers to be deployed in order to “Enforce the Fisheries Act”.

If you would like to donate to support the Sipekne’katik in exercising their inherent rights, information on how to do so can be found at

Sabawaelnu: The Half-Way People

General Information

In 1870, a Mi’kmaq man claimed to have found an infant Sabawaelnu that had been stranded by low tide on the coast of Nova Scotia. His partner wanted to bury it in the sand but the man knew better. He took the poor creature back to deep water and released it.

So what do we know about the Sabawaelnu?

Well they are also known as the Half-Way people English, and are depicted as having the appearance of that of a mermaid. Having the upper body of a human, with the lower part looking like a tail of a fish or whale. Their skin appears to be pale and scaly-looking. They are often respectful of humans and do not harm, unless provoked. The Sabawaelnu are also said to have power over storms and the ocean. The Mi’kmaq people had once learned to interpret the Sabawaelnu songs, which would help them to be able to predict when there was bad weather.

There are those who might have been given a choice to turn or it could have been given as a consequence of their actions, which led them to become fish-tailed spirits of nature. But like most mermaid or siren stories around the world, or should I say most lore involving any beautiful creatures. Men have the tendency to want to be with them...wink, wink... and for some the love was mutual, but most of the time, force would be used. These men would find and hide the mermaids comb, or mirror, this would keep these poor mermaids stranded on land.

You see, it was their only way they could return to the sea. If they couldn't locate their missing item they would be forced to live on land forever, leaving them vulnerable to the lurking men.
However as we all know, the surviving sirens would take their vengeance on boats and sailors that would pass by. Bringing both the ship and men to depths of the oceans. This can also be said for the Sabawaelnu. If shown disrespect towards them or their waters, you’ll be met with their fury.


Read Now



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Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. (2017, October 25). This Census in Brief article provides detailed information about Aboriginal languages spoken by Aboriginal people, including the regional distribution of each Aboriginal language family. Comparisons between the counts of Aboriginal language speakers and the counts of people with an Aboriginal mother tongue are provided. Results are presented for First Nations people, Métis and Inuit. Census in Brief: The Aboriginal languages of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit.

Historical Overview. Cape Breton University. (2019, October 4).'kma'ki%20was%20divided,Piktuk%2C%20Siknikt%2C%20and%20Kespek.

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