MI'KMAW CULTURE
- ORAL TRADITION

MI'KMAW CREATION STORY

Kisu'lk

Kisu'lk (gee-soolg) is the one who made everything. Sometimes Kisu'lk is referred to as Kji Niskam (Jee nis-gam), or the Great Spirit. Neither word implies gender, because it is not important whether the Great Spirit is a he or a she.

The Mi'kmaq people do not explain how the Great Spirit came into existence, only that Creator is responsible for everything being where it is today. Creator made everything.

Naku'set

Naku'set (nah-goo-set) is the sun which travels in a circle and owes its existence to Creator. Naku'set is the giver of life. It is also a giver of light and heat. The power of Naku'set is held with much respect among the Mi'kmaq and other aboriginal peoples.

The Creation of Wsitqamu'k

Wsitqamu'k (oo-sit-gah-moo) is the Earth, or the area of land upon which the Mi'kmaq people walk and share its abundant resources with the animals and plants. Wsitqamu'k refers to the Mi'kmaq world which encompasses all the area where the Mi'kmaq people can travel or have traveled upon.

Wsitqamu'k was created by Creator and was placed in the centre of the circular path of Naku'set, the sun. Naku'set was given the responsibility of watching over the Mi'kmaq world. Naku'set shines bright light upon Wsitqamu'k as it passes around its path, and this brought the days and nights.

The Creation of Kluskap

After the Mi'kmaq world was created and after the animals, birds and plants were placed on the surface, Creator caused a bolt of lightning to hit the surface of Wsitqamu'k. This bolt of lightning caused the formation of an image of a human body. It was Kluskap (gloos-cap), first shaped out of the basic element of the Mi'kmaq world, sand.

Creator unleashed another bolt of lightning which gave life to Kluskap, but he could not yet move. He was stuck to the ground, watching the world go by and Naku'set travel across the sky everyday. His head was facing the direction of the rising sun, his feet were in the direction of the setting sun, his right hand was pointed North, and his left hand was in the South direction.

Kluskap watched the animals, the birds and the plants grow and pass around him. He asked Kisu'lk to give him freedom to move about the Mi'kmaq world. So it was that a third blast of lightning came, and that caused Kluskap to become free and to be able to stand on the surface of the Earth.

After Kluskap stood up on his feet, he turned around in a full circle seven times. He then looked toward the sky and gave thanks to Creator for giving him life. He looked down and gave thanks to Wsitqamu'k for offering its sand for his creation. He looked within himself and gave thanks to Kisu'lk for giving him his soul and spirit. Kluskap then gave thanks to the four directions, starting in the direction of sunrise, and following the sun: East, South, West and North. In all he gave his heartfelt thanks to the seven directions.

Kluskap then went out to explore Wsitqamu'k, to see what he might earn about where he lived. He traveled in the direction of the setting sun, until he came to an ocean. He then went South until the land narrowed, and he could see two oceans on either side. He journeyed back to where he started from, and then continued towards the North, to the land of ice and snow. Finally, he came back to the East, where he decided to stay, because it was where he came into existence. He again watched the animals, the birds and the plants. He watched the water and the sky. Creator taught him to watch and learn about the world. Kluskap watched but he did not disturb the world around him. He finally asked Creator to tell him the purpose of his existence. He was told that he would meet someone soon.

The Coming of Nukumi

One day when Kluskap was traveling in the East he came upon a very old woman. The old woman introduced herself as Nukumi (noo-goo-mee). She said to Kluskap, "I am your grandmother." Kluskap asked the old woman how she arrived in the Mi'kmaq world. Nukumi said that she owed her existence to the rock, the dew and Naku'set, the Sun. She went on to explain that on one chilly morning a rock became covered with dew because it was sitting in a low valley. By midday, when the sun was most powerful, the rock got warm and then hot. With the power of Naku'set, the rock was given a body of an old woman. This old woman was Nukumi, who came into being already very wise and knowledgeable. She told Kluskap that he would gain spiritual strength by listening to and having great respect for his grandmother.

Kluskap was so glad for his grandmother's arrival to the Mi'kmaq world he called upon Apistne'wj (ah-bis-ti-nay-ooj), a marten swimming in the river, to come ashore. Apistne'wj came to the shore where Kluskap and Nukumi were standing, and Kluskap asked him to give up his life so that he and his grandmother could live. Apistne'wj agreed. Nukumi then took Apistne'wj and quickly snapped his neck, then placed him on the ground. Kluskap for the first time asked Creator to use his power to give life back to Apistne'wj, because he did not want to be in disfavor with the animals. Apistne'wj went back to the river and in his place lay another marten. Kluskap and Apistne'wj became friends and brothers forever. Because of marten's sacrifice, Kluskap referred to all the animals as his brothers and sisters from that point on.

Nukumi cleaned the animal to get it ready for eating. She gathered the still-hot sparks from the lightning which had hit the ground to give Kluskap life. She placed dry wood over the coals to make a fire. This fire became the Great Spirit Fire, and later came to be known as the Great Council Fire. Thus, the first feast of meat was cooked over the Great Fire.

Kluskap relied on his grandmother for her knowledge, and, since Nukumi was old and wise, Kluskap also came to respect her for her wisdom. They learned to respect each other for their continued interdependence and continued existence.

The Coming of Netawansum

One day when Kluskap and Nukumi were walking along in the woods, they came upon a young man. This young man was tall and physically very strong, and had grey-coloured eyes. Kluskap asked the young man his name and how he arrived to the Mi'kmaq world. The young man told Kluskap that his name was Netawansum (neh-dah-wan-sum) and that he was Kluskap's nephew. He told Kluskap that he was strong and that he could run after the moose and caribou to bring them down with his bare hands, so they could all live comfortably. 

When Kluskap asked Netawansum where he came from, Netawansum said that while the East wind was blowing hard it had caused the waters of the ocean to become rough and foamy. This foam got blown to the shore on the sandy beach, and finally rested on the tall grass. This tall grass happened to be sweetgrass, and it held onto the foam until Naku'set was high in the midday sky. At that time, Naku'set gave Netawansum spiritual and physical strength in a human body. Creator told Kluskap that if he relied on the strength and power of his nephew he would gain strength and understanding of the world around him.

Kluskap was so glad for his nephew's arrival to the Mi'kmaq world, he called upon the salmon of the rivers and seas to come to shore and give up their lives. The reason for this is that Kluskap, Netawansum and Nukumi did not want to kill all the animals for their survival, so in celebration of his nephew's arrival, they all had a feast of fish. They all gave thanks for their existence. They continued to rely on their brothers and sisters of the woods and waters, and on each other, for their survival.

The Coming of Ni'kanaptekewi'skw

One day, Kluskap was sitting near a fire, Nukumi was making clothing out of animal hides, and Netawansum was in the woods getting food. Then, a woman came to the fire and sat beside Kluskap. She put her arms around him and asked "Are you cold my son?" Kluskap was surprised, and he stood up and asked the woman who she was and where she came from. She explained that she was his mother, and her name was Ni'kanaptekewi'skw (nee-gah-nap-de-gay-weeskw).

Kluskap waited until his grandmother and nephew returned to the fire, then he asked his mother to explain how she arrived to the Mi'kmaq world. Ni'kanaptekewi'skw said that she was a leaf on a tree which fell to the ground. Morning dew formed on the leaf and glistened while the sun began its journey towards the midday sky. It was at midday when Naku'set gave life and a human form to Kluskap's mother.

Kluskap's mother said that she was bringing all the colours of the world to her children. She was also bringing strength and understanding; strength to withstand Earth's natural forces, and understanding of the Mi'kmaq world, its animals, and her children, the Mi'kmaq. She told them that they will need understanding and co-operation, so they all can live in peace with one another.

Kluskap was very happy that his mother came into the world, and since she came from a leaf, he called upon his nephew to gather nuts, seeds and fruits of the plants while Nukumi prepared a feast. Kluskap gave thanks to Creator, Naku'set, Wsitqamu'k, Nukumi, Netawansum and Ni'kanaptekewi'skw. They all had a feast in honor of Kluskap's mother's arrival to the world of the Mi'kmaq.

Kluskap's Life

Kluskap continued to live with his family for a very long time. He gained spiritual strength by having respect for each member of the family. He listened to his grandmother's wisdom. He relied on his nephew' s strength and spiritual power. His mother's love and understanding gave him dignity and respect. Kluskap' s brothers and sisters of the wood and waters gave him the will and the food to survive. Kluskap learned that mutual respect of his family and the world around him was a key ingredient for basic survival. Kluskap's task was to pass this knowledge to his fellow Mi'kmaq people, so that they too could survive in the Mi'kmaq world. This is why Kluskap became a central figure in Mi'kmaq story telling.

Kluskap's Departure, and Final Teachings

One day when Kluskap was talking to Nukumi he told her that soon they would soon leave his mother and nephew. He told her that they should prepare for that occasion. Nukumi began to get all the necessary things ready for a long journey to the North. When everyone was sitting around the Great Fire one evening, Kluskap told his mother and nephew that he and Nukumi were going to travel in the direction of the North, to return only if the Mi'kmaq people were in danger.

Kluskap told his mother and nephew to look after the Great Fire and never to let it go out. He told the that, after the passing of seven winters, seven sparks will fly from the fire, and when they land on the ground seven men will come to life. Seven more sparks will land on the ground and seven women will come into existence. They will form seven families, which would disperse into seven different directions from the area of the Great Fire. 

Kluskap said that once the seven families reached their destinations, they would further divide into seven groups. Each group would have their own area for their subsistence, so they would not disturb the other groups. He instructed his mother that the smaller groups would share the Earth's abundance of resources which included animals, plants and fellow humans.

Kluskap also told his mother that after the passing of seven winters, each of the seven groups would return to the place of the Great Fire. There all the people would dance, sing and drum in celebration of their continued existence in the Mi'kmaq world. Kluskap continued by saying that the Great Fire signified the power of the Great Spirit, and also the power and strength of the light and heat of Naku'set, the sun. The Great Fire also held the strength of Wsitqamu'k, the Earth. Finally the fire represented the bolt of lightning which hit the Earth from which Kluskap was created. The fire is very sacred to the Mi'kmaq - it is the most powerful spirit on Earth.

In honor of Nukumi's arrival to the Mi'kmaq world, Kluskap instructed his mother that seven, fourteen and twenty-one rocks would have to be heated over the Great Fire. These heated rocks, or Grandfathers, will be placed inside a wigwam covered with hides of moose and caribou, or with mud. The door must face the direction of the rising sun. There should be room for seven men to sit comfortably around a pit dug in the centre of the lodge, where up to twenty-one rocks could be placed. Seven alders, seven wild willows and seven beech saplings will be used to make the frame of the lodge.

Seven men representing the seven original families will enter into the lodge. They will give thanks and honor to the seven directions, and will pray to continue to live in good health. The men will pour water over the Grandfathers, causing steam to rise and the lodge to become very hot. The men will begin to sweat up to point that it will become almost unbearable. Only those who believe in the spiritual strength will be able to withstand the heat. Then they will all come out of the lodge full of steam and shining like new born babies. This is the way they will clean their spirits and honor Nukumi's arrival. Before entering the sweat the seven men will burn sweetgrass, to honor the seven directions but also to honour Netawansom's arrival to the Mi'kmaq world. The sweet grass must be lit from the Great Fire.

Kluskap's mother came into the world from the leaf of a tree, so in honor of her arrival tobacco or tomawey (doo-mah-way) would be made from bark and leaves and would be smoked. The tomawey would be smoked in a pipe made from stone, with a stem made from the branch of a tree. The pipe will be lit from the sweetgrass which was lit from the Great Fire. The tomawey represents Kluskap's grandmother, nephew and mother, and the smoke will be blown in seven directions.

After honoring Nukumi's arrival the Mi'kmaq shall have a feast or meal. In honor of Netawansom they will eat fish. The fruits and roots of the trees and plants will be eaten to honor Ni'kanaptekewi'skw.

 

- story adapted from "Mi'kmaq Knowledge in the Mi'kmaq Creation Story: Lasting Words and Deeds," by Stephen Augustine, April 8, 1977

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Updated: 04 Jul 2013 Print Page Bookmark Page