October 31, 1997 Halifax Herald

Mi'kmawey 1997: an informative, inspiring event

On August 24, 1996, I accepted an invitation to participate in a conference entitled Mi'kmawey 1997, slated for this October 10-12 at the University College of Cape Breton campus. The event's theme was “Advancing Mi'kmaq Scholars and Scholarship.”

Consequently, on the morning of October 10, I had the pleasure of being one of the four people who presented papers about ethical issues in Mi'kmaq scholarship. And during the afternoon, I chaired a panel of four experts whose topic was “history and historiography.” On Oct. 11, my involvement was mostly limited to that of a spectator. Unfortunately, as I had to make an early departure for home, I missed the final day’s event.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Getting to Sydney was a pleasure unto itself. The drive over the Trans-Canada Highway on the afternoon of the Oct. 9, especially around and over the hills between New Glasgow and Antigonish, was filled with the works of Mother Nature at her best. The spectacular colours of the foliage were, to say the least, eye popping. Then, of course, came the renewal of a long acquaintance with the rugged beauty of the hills, mountains, lakes and valleys of Cape Breton.

About an hour after crossing the Causeway, with my eyes filled with the wonders that the Great Spirit has blessed the Island with, I began to feel a need to avail myself of food. To satisfy the need, I stopped at the Seal Island Motel and Restaurant, which overlooks the TCH's Great Bras d'Or Channel Bridge. From this location, a person has an awesomely picturesque view of Kelly's Mountain.

Upon entering the restaurant, I spotted a slate which listed menu specials. Being a seafood lover, an entrée entitled "seafood delight" caught my eye. It consisted of clams, scallops, haddock, various vegetables and fresh, home made-buns. Suffice it to say that the meal was so good that the following evening I drove the 70 miles return from Sydney to have more of the same.

Now back to Mi'kmawey. The evening of Oct. 9 saw the opening of a Mi'kmaq Cultural Centre at the University. Speeches were made during the opening by Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy and others. Drummers beat out traditional music, goodies were served, and a good time was had by all. The new campus facility complements an established Mi'kmaq Art Gallery and a Mi'kmaq Student Centre.

The next day, the participants and spectators were officially welcomed to Mi'kmawey 1997 by Chapel Island Band Chief Lindsay Marshall and University president Jacquelyn Scott. Then we got down to the Mi'kmawey agenda.

And what an agenda it was! For two days, we were treated to excellent perspectives on a multiplicity of subjects - spanning Mi'kmaq history to the preservation of the language - by eminent Native and non-Native scholars.

The number of well versed experts from the Mi'kmaq community, who delivered and then debated well-thought-out discourse on many subjects, was the most heartening thing about the conference. They came from various professions; Stephen Augustine, a Native history researcher at the Canadian Museum of Civilization; Vivian Gray, Chief Curator of the Indian and Inuit Art Centre, Department of Indian Affairs, to name a few.

To add to the pleasure of being swamped with information about Mi'kmaq Culture, there was the opportunity to have a short visit with friends and acquaintances from yesteryear; Rita Joe, Alex Denny, Margaret Johnson (Dr. Granny), Albert Marshall, Josephine Peck, Helen Sylliboy and many others.

On Saturday afternoon, we traveled to Eskasoni to weigh the ideas of a panel of Elders and educators on how to preserve the Mi'kmaq language. After the discourse, which was chaired by Murdena Marshall, the community treated us to a delicious feast of turkey and moose meat. The moose meat, in particular, was a delight.

Hats off to the many dedicated people who organized and presented the conference. You did a smash-up job! A special word of thanks goes to David L. Schmidt, who was a driving force behind the event. When things needed fixing, David was there.

Regrettably, Schmidt has resigned his position as assistant professor with the University and has returned home to sunny California. David's dedication and enthusiasm will be missed by his colleagues and students alike.

Also, a special mention goes to Patrick Johnson, who acted as master of ceremonies for much of the event; and kudos also go to Laurianne Sylvester, who was responsible for administrative details.

Last, but not least, a big thanks to the many dedicated non-Natives educators and experts who participated. Their generous contributions of time and expertise were big-time ingredients in making Mi'kmawey 1997 a success.

There is, however, one shortcoming which must be addressed when planning a future Mi'kmawey - the absence of most Mi'kmaq educators. To fulfil the promise of such events, these educators must participate. This is a must because the knowledge they acquire will enhance their ability to help Mi'kmaq children understand and have pride in their great heritage.

Daniel N. Paul


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