Hallmarks: Began in 1604. Became a military alliance around 1652. Ended with the British and French signing the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
English colonial officials were bitterly jealous of the friendly relationships that the French enjoyed with many First Nations. They couldn’t fathom why they weren’t able to do the same. However, the reason that they weren’t able to do so is clearly articulated in remarks they often made about the French: "As the French were in a measure free from the English delicacy that nauseates at intimacy with savages." These were the founders of the white supremacist culture that has grievously harmed people of colour residing in North America until recent times.
If, from first contact, because the Mi’kmaq were a peaceful and hospitable people, they had treated with them as equals, there would not have been any wars between the two Nations. There is no doubt that the Mi’kmaq would have been willing to live side by side in harmony with them. Father Chrestien Le Clercq, a 17th century French Missionary, describes Mi’kmaq hospitality, which was the case with most North American First Nations:
”Hospitality is in such great esteem among our Gaspesians (Mi’kmaq) that they make almost no distinction between the home-born and the stranger. They give lodging equally to the French and to the Indians who come from a distance, and to both they distribute generously whatever they have obtained in hunting and in the fishery, giving themselves little concern if the strangers remain among them for weeks, months and even entire years. They are always good-natured to their guests, whom, for the time, they consider as belonging to the wigwam, especially if they understand even a little of the Gaspesian tongue.”
This generous trait among Native American Peoples, who knew not greed, toward their own and strangers was one of the prime factors that permitted the Europeans to steal two continents so easily.
When Champlain landed on the shores of Mi’kmaq territory in 1604, in what is today called Nova Scotia, he sowed the seeds for the establishment of a century and a half of friendship between the French and the Mi’kmaq Nation by making friendly contact with the Nation’s citizens. However, the early French settlers were the ones who cemented the relationship.
The first steps in this direction began in earnest after the 1604/05 French settlement at St.Croix, in what is today Maine, failed. Pierre du Gua, Sieur de Monts, the expedition’s leader, determined not to suffer a repeat of the multitude of deaths caused by scurvy and the effects of a very severe winter at St. Croix, moved the settlers in 1605 to a location on Saint Mary’s Bay that he christened Port Royale. In spite of the move deaths from scurvy occurred during the winter of 1605/06, but, following advice from the Mi’kmaq, they were greatly reduced.
From the beginning of contact men and women from both Nations were physically attracted to each another. However, the onset of intimate relationships did have its rocky moments. For example, after some Frenchmen made inappropriate passes at some Mi’kmaq ladies, the Chiefs informed their Captain “That anyone who attempted to do that again would not stand much of a chance, that they would kill him on the spot."
In 1607, after de Monts was informed that he had lost his trade monopoly, he abandoned Port Royale and returned to France. However, some settlers stayed, many marrying into the Mi’kmaq community. In fact, throughout the French presence, intermarriages were many and reached the highest level of officialdom in the French colonial government. For example, Charles de La Tour, in charge of provincial affairs in the 1630s, was married to a Mi'kmaq woman.
Contrary to what happened in Western Canada, these relationships did not foster a Metis culture. The children of mixed marriages were accepted by either community as one of their own without reservation.
From these early interrelationships, and a strong sense of independence and a love of liberty, grew the Acadien culture. As it grew it adopted many of the good qualities of the Mi’kmaq culture, and incorporated many Mi’kmaq words into their language. In fact, the second language of both communities, until the 1760s, was that of the other. The admiration of the democratic practices of the Mi’kmaq lured many French settlers to assimilate into the community. The idea of this reverse assimilation occurring was expressed on several occasions with some apprehension by French authorities.
In retrospect, it would have been a gift from the Great Spirit to First Nations Peoples if Europeans had not invaded the Americas. This is borne out by the fact that because they did all First Nation civilizations that inhabited two Continents at the time have been badly damaged or destroyed, with tens of millions dying in the process. However, the savagery inflicted indiscriminately upon these almost defenseless peoples was not uniform. The English and Spanish in particular were genocidal driven. The French were Christianity conversion driven.
Thus, for North American First Nations, it would have been much better if the French had prevailed in North America. At least, under their rule, no attempt was made to commit genocide, and the People were permitted to live much the same as they had before they arrived. Such was not the case for those living under British rule. Under them, many First Nations civilizations completely disappeared, and citizens of the remaining ones were persecuted almost beyond belief. And, during these times, a blind desire emerged, and was pursued until Canada was created in 1867, to exterminate them by assimilation. When Canada came into being 1867 it picked up where the British left off and, until very recent times, also pursued the goal of extermination by assimilation relentlessly.
Many Acadiens and Mi’kmaq today are taking an interest in learning their histories, which for a century and a half, involved the other intimately. Perhaps these words contained in “Mi'kmaq and Acadian good relations say it best: “In Acadia, with a profound and sincere mutual respect, the American First Nations and France wove bonds of friendship, fraternity and exchanges unparalleled on the American continent.”
Some historians state that the mutually beneficial relationship was due to the fact that the French-Acadians cultivated the marsh lands while the First Nations’ people would inhabit the inlands. On the contrary, the French-Acadians would seek to settle near the First Nations’ people, who actually lived mainly on the shores for most of the year. They would ask permission to live and fish in the First Nations’ area. This practice was continued in some areas until the turn of the 21st century; Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia is one example. The Acadians would ask First Nations people to fish eels at one location where eels were plentiful.
The Mi’kmaq and Acadiens set an example in colonial days for how different cultures could live in harmony with each other that the modern world would do well to emulate. They demonstrated that Peoples of different cultures, colours, religion, politics etc., could accept and respect the other as equals and join hands. A mark of truly civilized Peoples!