The Struggle Over Mi'kmaq (Micmac) History

In the beginning...

When the Great Spirit was making the Continent of the New World, he found that he had much material left over in the shape of rocks, swamps and useless trees. So he formed a big rubbish heap by casting it all into the sea to the northeast, and called it Wee-soc-kadao. Several years after, John Cabot discovered and claimed the island for Great Britain. He called it Newfoundland.1

This is a very old Mi'kmaq joke. It is based on their beliefs about the creation of North America. It's a lot like our own saying about Labrador-the land God gave to Cain-a sly comment about the harsh landscape of this province. Like many jokes, it may have been changed and added to over time. The last two lines could be a comment on the habits of Europeans. They claimed to "discover" places where Indians already lived. They changed the names given to those places by the Gods.

We don't know when the joke was first told. It could have been hundreds of years ago. We do know when this bit of Mi'kmaq wit was first written down. In 1906 J.G. Millais traveled to Newfoundland. He came to explore and hunt caribou in the Bay d'Espoir and Port aux Basques wilderness. He hired several Mi'kmaq guides to help him find his way. These guides told him the joke during the trip.

Millais came to like and admire his Mi'kmaq guides. He probably understood both parts of the joke. He may even have agreed with the slap it makes at Europeans like himself. Millais liked it so much he used it as the opening paragraph in the book he wrote about his adventures, called Newfoundland and Its Untrodden Ways.1 The joke is still told by Mi'kmaq people on the island today. It may not strike them as funny anymore. Europeans renamed their home. The Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland believe they also rewrote their history.

1 J.G. Millais, Newfoundland and Its Untrodden Ways, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1907.