Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland – A Brief History

Historians and archaeologists differ as to when the Mi’kmaq first came to Newfoundland. Newfoundland Mi’kmaw oral tradition holds that the Mi’kmaq were living in Newfoundland prior to European contact.  There is some historical evidence that the Mi’kmaq were living in Newfoundland by the 16th century, and by the 17th century there are increasing references to the Mi’kmaq in the historical record.


Map showing traditional hunting and trapping territory of the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq as  perceived by Frank Speck.

From Frank Speck, Beothuk and Micmac, Indian Notes and Monographs series, vol. 22 (New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1922). Illustration by Tina Riche

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Mi’kmaq had created what one historian calls a “Domain of Islands” in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Mi’kmaq traders, who had adopted the small European sailing boat, the shallop (or chaloupe), had constructed a network of exchange which ranged from the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Labrador to the coasts of Massachusetts.  These Mi’kmaq acted as middlemen in the exchange of European goods for furs.

During the colonial period, the Mi’kmaq were allied with the French.   As a result, when the French were defeated by the British in 1763, the Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland were regarded with suspicion by British authorities.

By this time, the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq had developed a distinctive way of life, hunting caribou, trapping furs, and exchanging them for necessities such as guns, kettles, knives.

In the 19th century, the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq often acted as guides; for example, the explorer William Cormack, was guided by Mi’kmaq in his attempt to locate the Beothuk in the interior of Newfoundland in 1822 and in 1829.  Throughout the 19th century, the 150 or so Mi’kmaq people in Newfoundland made their living as guides, trappers, mail carriers, and as sellers of basketry.

A deserted wigwam, ca. 1890.
Humber River, western coast of
Newfoundland. The influx of
European hunters and trappers
 during the 19th century greatly
altered the traditional way of life
for many Mi’kmaq.
Courtesy of the Provincial Archives
of Newfoundland and Labrador  


Life became much more difficult for the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq with the completion of the trans-island railway in 1898.  The railway brought a flood of caribou hunters to the interior of the island, and by 1930 the caribou had been hunted almost to extinction.  The world-wide decline in fur prices, coupled with the Depression of the 1930’s, spelled the beginning of the end of the old way of life.  By 1945 there were no full-time trappers left in Conne River (Miawpukek), the largest Mi’kmaw community, and seasonal logging for low wages represented one of the few sources of cash for the community.  Hunting, fishing, and gathering berries remained a necessary part of most families’ lives.

Despite their early conversion to Catholicism, many Mi’kmaq retained their traditional beliefs.  Although use of the Mi’kmaw language declined drastically in the 20th century, in recent years the Conne River community has worked valiantly to revive it.

In 1972 the people of Conne River formed an elected band council, and in 1973 the Federation of Newfoundland Indians was formed to work toward Federal recognition of Newfoundland’s Mi’kmaq.  In 1984 the Federal Government recognized the Conne River Mi’kmaq as status Indians under the Indian Act, and in 1987 Conne River was recognized as a status Indian Reserve.

Although the Conne River Mi’kmaq have yet to have their land claims accepted by the federal or provincial government, the community has become a model of native enterprise, including, among others, a flourishing aquaculture programme, hunting and fishing lodges, and a logging operation.  In an effort to promote and sustain Mi’kmaw culture, the Miawpukek Band Council sponsors a variety of cultural events and programmes, many of which can be seen on the Miawpukek Web Site.

© 1997, Ralph T. Pastore
Archaeology Unit & History Department
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Mi’kmaw Model of a Caribou Skin Boat (or Canoe) with Two Paddles with Lanceolate Blades




Historical Timeline for the Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland

From an FNI brochure

In the beginning:    Gluskap, mythical hero of the Mi’kmaq people, is created.  His stories include the formation of Newfoundland.

Pre-contact:  Mi’kmaq inhabited a vast homeland called ‘Mi’kmaq’kik’ ranging from Gaspé Peninsula and Quebec north shore, to St. Pierre and Miquelon, and included Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Maine, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, and the Magdalen Islands.  It is thought they traveled between these places in sea canoes to hunt and fish.

1500’s:  First Europeans arrive.  Mi’kmaq willingly engage in fur trade.  Mi’kmaq introduced to metal weaponry and tools, beads, ribbons, tobacco, flour and sugar, disease and Catholicism.

1600’s:  75% of Mi’kmaq die due to disease.  French and English fight between themselves for ownership of Mi’kmaq lands.

1713:   Treaty of Utrecht.  English gain control of Newfoundland.  Mi’kmaq left to settle or to eke out a living in ever-shrinking forests.

1800’s:  Mi’kmaq learn woodworking and continue to produce baskets and bead work for trade.  Men hired as guides, loggers and mail-carriers.

1949:  Newfoundland joins Confederation.  Canada does not take responsibility for the Native peoples of the province.

1971:  Native Association of Newfoundland and Labrador formed.

1972:  Native Association becomes Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI).

1980’s:  FNI Membership is six affiliate bands.  FNI begins negotiations with Canada for recognition under the Indian Act.  FNI conducts genealogical studies.

1982:  Conne River Mi’kmaq achieve eligibility.

1988:  FNI submits self-government proposal to Department of Northern & Indian Affairs.

1989:  FNI and Chiefs begin action against Canada to obtain Federal Recognition.

1990-1992:  FNI gains three new affiliated bands.

1992-2002:  Decade of unsuccessful on and off negotiations.  Other agenda items moved.

2002:  FNI presents Canada with a proposal called the ‘2002 Mi’kmaw Regime’.

2003:  Canada offers a proposal: a landless band if members meet eligibility criteria.  FNI establishes negotiation team.

2004-2006:  FNI and Canada in official negotiations re: Agreement-in-Principle.

2006:  Tentative Agreement-in-Principle drafted.  November 30, 2007 Agreement-in-Principle initialed.

March 29, 2008:  FNI membership ratifies Agreement-in-Principle with 90% vote.

June, 2008:  Canada to ratify Agreement.  Enrolment process begins.  Implementation Committee appointed.

July, 2008:  Implementation Plan developed.  Enrolment Clerks hired.

September, 2008:  Membership Applications available.

November, 2008:  Enrolment Committee struck.  Application Reviews begin.

Flat Bay Indian Band Inc.

Base on the writings of Elder (Former Chief) Calvin White

Flat Bay derives its name from a body of water, sheltered by a strip of land known as Sandy Point. This sheltered harbor provided refuge from storms in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It also provided for ships to anchor in close proximity to land. For that reason Sandy Point became the European settlement of the West Coast.

In 1797 Crofton noted Flat Bay’s importance to Mi’kmaq because of the quantity of eels.

When European occupation became dominant, many Mi’kmaq people left occupied areas such as Sandy Point, Main Gut, and various other locations surrounding Flat Bay waters. Some moved as far away as Conne River, others settled in a location isolated between two rivers (Flat Bay and Fishell’s River) and, while some Mi’kmaq remained in European settled communities, they were forced into assimilation by governing rules, lifestyles, etc. Their struggle to survive as a people was always a challenge, even within families. Flat Bay West people were culturally radical and pursued hunting, fishing, and gathering, regardless of consequences. They rebelled against European laws and ignored government policies that were not congruent with the Mi’kmaw way.

The community of Flat Bay remained isolated as its borders were protected by Flat bay River in the East and Fishels River in the West, the Gulf of St Lawrence to the North, and ninety miles of unoccupied wilderness to the South. Since hunting and fishing was the way of life, Flat Bay was a paradise for Mi’kmaq settlement.

Historically the Flat Bay Mi’kmaq managed their own community affairs through a process whereby the most senior and knowledgeable person would take charge of dealing with the resolution process. These roles of responsibility often changed with the exception of treatment and care of the sick. The two community mid-wives, Susan Benoit and Mary Francis, shared the responsibility until in their late ageing . Patrick Sheppard and Martin Benoit were the community casket makers. In the mid 1920′s, when an epidemic of diphtheria broke out and children were dying at a rate of two/four per day, Ralph Perrier and Jim White organized burials, while John White anointed and provided last rights to the deceased in the absence of a priest.

In 1955 due to the opening of a Gypsum mine four (4) miles from the residential part of the community, a link was established to the Trans Canada Highway (TCH)

The responsibility of managing community affairs immediately became threatened. Laws pertaining to hunting and fishing which were non-existing for hundreds of years were now an everyday occurrence. RCMP and Wildlife and Fisheries officers were routine visitors to the community. By 1970 it was evident that a more organized approach was needed to deal with the unwanted, unwelcome, intrusion.

The Flat Bay Mi’kmaq knew their people and where they lived. They accepted and respected the decisions of others to occupy areas such as Bay of Islands, Corner Brook, and throughout Bay St. George. These connections were to pay dividends when, in 1969, native organizations were springing up across Canada. Flat Bay West, without any municipal structure, opted to institute a Band Council governing body. Conne River had done likewise. Common knowledge of other Mi’kmaq people throughout Newfoundland laid the foundation for a provincial organization. Indian people in other communities were contacted and encouraged to identify, promote and organize under First Nation identity. Flat Bay is one of the founding Bands in the Newfoundland and Labrador Native Association, later to become the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI).

The Flat Bay Indian Council was duly elected by democratic process in June 1971 and incorporated in 1974. There have been gaps in renewals and updates to the incorporation, mainly due to ignorance of government policies. That is no longer the case and the Flat Bay Band Council is an incorporated body in good standing. All appropriate government forms has been completed and submitted to Indian Affairs Department of Registrar. Membership criteria in the Flat Bay Band is based on the Fourth Generation rule.

Boundaries are from Fishels River to the west, Flat Bay River on the east, the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the north and unspecified uninhabited boundaries to the south. While many surnames are not of aboriginal origin, geneology evidence links the community residents to Youngs, Kings, Francis, Benoits, McDonald and perhaps more significant 1945 census records identifies 95% of the population as French/Indian. Names such as Webb, Sheppard, White and Legge are included, clearly showing the continued strength of aboriginal growth as a people and as a community. Our self-government policies were later enacted through Bill C31. All other bands throughout Canada under the Indian Act are now addressing Band membership. Flat Bay Band has always protected the rights of our women and their children.