Daily Life
Daily Life
The wigwam was home to the Mi'kmaq year-round. It was well-ventilated to allow smoke to rise from the wood fire (Painting by Robert Petley. Courtesy National Archives of Canada/C-103533)
Text by First Nations Historian Georges Sioui

In the long-ago time before Europeans came, everything our ancestors needed came from nature: shelter, food, tools, transportation and clothing. Our Mi’kmaq forebears lived in wigwams. They built a strong frame of branches and used bark, which could be easily peeled from the trees in spring, for sheathing. They used roots and plant fibres for ropes and string to tie the bark solidly to the frame. In winter, with colder weather, they covered the boughs with the furs and skins that once kept warm the animals from the forest. To warm their houses, which were always well-ventilated, the people collected lots of good dry firewood, the kind that doesn’t make much smoke.

The Mi’kmaq were blessed with excellent food in endless variety from both land and sea. The forests and fields provided herbs and many sweet fruits, of which they dried great quantities for winter use. [see Close-up]

Tools came from nature too, like bone needles for sewing and stone hatchets for cutting wood. Perhaps the most important tools were the snowshoes that were essential in the winter. The winter landscape was like a very vast lake of snow. Snowshoes were just as necessary to the Mi’kmaq for travelling in that immensity of snow as their canoes were in summer. With snowshoes, they could walk all day long without hardly feeling tired, whereas without them, they exhausted themselves very soon. To make them, you had to make a strong frame of black ash and you had to be a good weaver. Women were often specialists at weaving snowshoes artfully, sometimes incorporating a special design.

Transportation in summer relied very much on canoes, which they used quite extensively. Their kwitns—canoes—were extremely precious. [see Close-up] Also, knowing how to get around in the wilderness involved skills that every Mi’kmaq had to learn. [see Close-up]

Clothing too came from the environment. Garments were made of hides and furs, which kept the people warm and comfortable, even through the long winters. Good fur blankets kept them warm as did winter boots made with the fur on the inside. Stockings made of skins of hares or other smaller animals were worn inside the boots. [see Close-up] Clothing was not the only thing the Amerindians used to adorn themselves. They wore their hair in elaborate styles, sometimes painted their faces and many had tattoos. [see Close-up]

And so, you see, the Mi’kmaq lived very well before they met the first Europeans to come to the Americas.