A self-introduction from the author:

My name is Michael McDonald, and I am from Sipekne'katik First Nation. I graduate from law school next month. I have two undergrads: one with a major in Mi'kmaq Studies at CBU, and Sociology and Criminology with minor In Anthropology at St Mary's University, as well as the Native Studies Program at St Thomas University!

As you can see I am very educated, but much of my teachings come from the elders. When I was a kid I was fascinated with being Mi'kmaq! During my early years we lived in Boston and even though my father sent us to the Boston Indian Center all the time I wasn't exposed to my culture as much. So when we moved to the reserve when I was eleven, I would spend a lot of time with elders who were born in the late 1800's and early 1900's, soaking in much of their knowledge as I could! I couldn't get enough - I needed to know everything!

Now that I have education behind me, and after spending years of researching, I am trying to share my knowledge so others can pass on what was told to me and what I have learned.

All content on this page © Michael McDonald

History of Halifax - A Mi’kmaw perspective

Halifax is known to Mi’kmaq as Chebucto “Kjipuktuk”(1) or “Great Habour”. A number of Mi’kmaq Clans held permanent villages in Kjipuktuk. The Mi’kmaq of Kjipuktuk took advantage of the coves in the harbour since they offered protection from the elements, a place to beach canoes, and a constant supply of fresh water from the streams flowing down from one of many lakes nearby.(2) There was also a wide diversity of marine life in this area that provided food all year round, especially large marine mammals such as grey seals, harbour seals and even Atlantic walruses were plentiful.(3)

Mi’kmaq territory was split into seven Districts. The seven Districts were known as: Kespukwitk, Sipeknékatik, Eskíkewaq, Unamákik, Piktuk aqq Epekwitk, Sikniktewaq, and Kespékewaq. Kjipuktuk was located in the Sipekne’katik District. The District of Sipekne’katik in English is translated to the "ground nut place” or “place of the ground nut". The word for ground nut in Mi’kmaq is “Sipekne’”.

Mi’kmaq lived in family groups comprised of a number of families that were usually connected by kinship.(4) These groups would make up a Clan and each Clan was represented by elders and a local Sakamow (chief).(5)

Local Clans were interconnected through kinship ties and blood relations. These interconnected Clans all shared a specific territory known as a District.(6) Each District held boundaries that were expected to be maintained by the Chiefs of each Clan with the assistance of war captains. Each District also had a head Sakamow known as a “Nikanus” or District Chief, and all seven Districts were represented by one “Kji'saqmaw” or Grand Chief. (7)

The territory of the local Sakamow seems to have been coextensive with the area occupied by the inhabitants of a single village.(8) There were three Clan Sakamows in Kjipuktuk with a population thought to be around 400 to 600 Mi’kmaq by the early to middle 1700’s. Considering anthropological evidence in other areas and the plentiful food supply in Kjipuktuk the population was probably in the 2000 range. Along the southeastern bank of the St. Croix River in St. Croix, Hants County there is evidence that there was a large permanent Mi’kmaq village that supported well over 500 and possibly 1000 Mi’kmaq at any given time.(9) The main sources of food on this river were eel and gaspereau. Considering the large amount of fish and marine life in Kjipuktuk the Mi’kmaq population would have been much larger at the time of contact. During the 1500’s it was common knowledge among fishing vessels to avoid entering Kjipuktuk because the Mi’kmaq would attack any outsiders entering the basin. In his memoirs, Monsieur Samuel De Champlain wrote that he avoided going near Kjipuktuk even though he identifies it on his maps as Baye Saine or Healthy Harbour.(10) The islands located at the mouth of the Harbour were known to the French as Les Martyres where a number of French sailors were killed by the Mi’kmaq of Kjipuktuk. Any ship entering would be met by over 400 warriors in canoes who would immediately attack the unexpected ships. Many of the ships that entered Kjipuktuk during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s were never seen again. By the mid-1600’s European sailors and fisherman avoided Kjipuktuk all together. So the exact number of Mi’kmaq in Kjipuktuk during these early years is unknown.

There were also two smaller villages recognized, one in North West Arm (Horseshoe Island) and the other located near the Narrows (Tufts Cove).
The area of downtown Halifax up to Point Pleasant Park was known to the Mi'kmaq as “Amntu'kati”(11), which in English means, “spirit place” or “the place of spirits”.(12) Every year since time immemorial the Mi’kmaq from all over Mi’kma’kik would come and gathered at Amntu’kati for 7 days after the first full moon during "Tquoluiku," “the frog croaking month” in the spring.(13) This is why the Mi’kmaq protected Kjipuktuk so fiercely.

With the increase of European fishing boats anchoring along the shore lines of Mi’kma’kik, contact with Mi’kmaq increased. These early contacts had a devastated consequence on Mi’kmaq population since the Mi’kmaq had no initial immunities to the diseases brought to them by early contact.(14) As a result of these early contacts the Mi’kmaq numbers in Kjipuktuk slowly decreases and they could not protect Amntu’kati like they once did.

In 1746, the Mi’kmaq of Kjipuktuk, along with hundreds of warriors from the Sipekne’katik District and neighbouring districts along with over a dozen Chief’s waited for Duc d’Anville's fleet of over 70 ships bringing supplies of arms, ammunition, along with over a 1000 soldiers to fight the English.(15) Before departing France some of the crewmen on those ships had been infected by European-borne viruses and illness. Fuelled by the crowded, unsanitary conditions, along with poor food, and polluted water on the ships, many died on route from a deadly combination of scurvy, typhus, and typhoid.(16) By the time 40 ships of the original 70 arrived a large number had perished. The Mi’kmaq of Kjipuktuk and the warriors of Sipekne’katik were expecting ammunition and supplies but instead they were greeted by an armada of death and destruction. Hundreds of Mi'kmaq died in Kjipuktuk, oral traditional accounts state the numbers of Mi’kmaq deaths were well over 1000. They were buried along with over 1000 French sailors and soldiers in two mass graves.(17) The ones that survived spread the deadly combination of scurvy, typhus, and typhoid all across Mi’kma’kik, which ended up killing over one-third of the entire Mi’kmaq population.(18)

Mi’kmaq oral tradition records the catastrophe that decimated their numbers. Many died on their traditional camping grounds, where they were quickly buried. The Mi’kmaq called the disease “the black measles,” even naming one of their camping areas “Iktuk’maqtawe’g’aluso’l”, the “place of the black measles.”(19) Before the arrival of English settlers, the Mi’kmaq camped in the sheltered coves around Kjipuktuk and Bedford Basin. One such cove, Birch Cove, was used as a semi-permanent camp by four or five families. As a base for resource extraction, Birch Cove was perfectly situated and the upper cove an ideal camp site.

The Mi’kmaq people were well organized with highly complex social and political structure and prepared to defend their District at any cost. If Duc d’Anville's fleet never brought with them an armada of deadly disease and illness to Kjipuktuk in 1746, Cornwallis would have never been able to settle there only three years later. Especially considering as previously noted, this area was highly sacred to the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik (20)

The English first settled in Halifax on June 14, 1749.(21) This enraged the Mi’kmaq. The spot where they built their settlement was sacred land to the Mi’kmaq. On August 14, 1749, Cornwallis called for a meeting with the Mi’kmaq and neighbouring Tribes.(22) It was crucial for the English to sign a Treaty with the Mi’kmaq especially with the Mi’kmaq of Cape Sable Island. The English needed a treaty to end the hostilities in Annapolis Royal and the constant attacks at English settlements in Maine and New England.(23) However, Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik refuse to come to this meeting, instead the Chiefs and Elders of Sipekne’katik drafted a letter to Cornwallis expressing their anger over the English settlement in Kjipuktuk, and in doing so the Mi’kmaq were asserting their rights to their lands.(24)

The letter in part to Cornwallis stated: "The place where you are, where you are building dwellings, where you are now building a fort, where you want, as it were, to enthrone yourself, this land of which you wish to make yourself now absolute master, this land belongs to me. I have come from it as certainly as the grass, it is the very place of my birth and of my dwelling, this land belongs to me the Mi'kmaq (L'nuk), yes I swear, it is God (Niskam) who has given it to me to be my country forever... Show me where the Mi’kmaq (L'nuk) will lodge? You drive me out; where do you want me to take refuge? You have taken almost all this land in all its extent. Nothing remains to me except Kchibouktouk (Kjipuktuk). You envy me even this morsel... Your residence at Port Royal does not cause me great anger because you see that I have left you there at peace for a long time, but now you force me to speak out by the great theft you have perpetrated against me."(25)

Cornwallis refused to accept the Mi’kmaq claims to Kjipuktuk, so the Halifax settlement remained. In September, less than a month after Cornwallis received the letter, the Mi’kmaq started attacking the settlement of Halifax.(26) These attacks on the Halifax settlement were a clear message to Cornwallis that this land belonged to the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik. Even more so, the Mi’kmaq had already previously warned the English in 1720, that they will attack anyone who settled in their land without their consent.

On October of 1720, three Chiefs, including the District Chief of Sipekne’katik, met with the French in Les Minas. The Chiefs included Chief of Pisiguit, Minas, and Shubenacadie. The Chiefs requested the French to draft a letter for them and have it sent to Governor Richard Phillips stationed at the English Garrison in Annapolis. The letter was a warning to the English to stay in Annapolis and stay out of Mi’kmaq lands in Sipekne’katik. The contents of the letter in part stated: “We believe Niskum “God” gave us these lands. However, we see you want to drive us from the place where you are living (Annapolis), and you threaten to reduce us to your servitude… we are our own masters and not subordinate to anyone… we do not want English living in our lands (District of Sipekne’katik). The land we hold only from God. We will dispute with all men who want to live here without our consent(27).”

After receiving the letter in Annapolis, the English kept entering Sipekne’katik territory. So in keeping with their warning the Mi’kmaq started repeatedly attacking the English. From 1722 to 1726 the Mi’kmaq attacked and destroyed over 100 English ships.(28) After suffering many losses, the lieutenant-Governor of Annapolis, Captain John Doucett, wanted to make peace with the Mi’kmaq so finally a “Peace and Friendship” treaty was signed in 1726.(29)

However, Cornwallis did not heed the warnings, nor did the English want to accept Mi’kmaq sovereignty over their sacred lands of Kjipuktuk, so in response to the Mi’kmaq attacks on the Halifax settlement Cornwallis gave the order for all his military under his power, to attack and kill any Mi’kmaq on sight.(30) The date of this order was October 01, 1749.(31) Cornwallis included a bounty of 10 Guineas for every Mi’kmaq scalp produced to commanding officers at Annapolis, Minas and Halifax.(32)

Skirmishes between the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik and English continued for three years. The Mi’kmaq responded by declaring war on the English. So the Mi’kmaq started launching a series of destructive attacks against Protestant settlers in the Halifax area.(33) Eventually Cornwallis was forced to resign in failure and was replaced by Governor Peregrine Thomas Hopson in August 1752. One of his first priorities was to make peace with the Mi’kmaq. Governor Hopson sent messages to the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik that the English wished to make peace, and lifted the bounty Cornwallis had out for Mi’kmaq scalps.(34) What is most interesting is the response received by Hopson from the District Chief of Sipekne’katik, Chief Cope. Chief Cope felt that the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik should be compensated for the lands settled in their district. Chief Cope stated: "the Indians should be paid for the land the English had settled upon in this country."(35) These words are clearly demonstrating Mi’kmaq assertion of title, especially when they are asking for compensation. Although the Council did not address Chief Cope's proposal for monetary compensation for the lands settled on by the English, they did recognize the lands still controlled by the Mi’kmaq as their own lands by the words written in the treaty. “We will not suffer that you be hindered from Hunting, or Fishing in this Country, as you have been used to do, and if you shall think fit to settle your wives and children upon the River Shibenaccadie, no person shall hinder it, nor shall meddle with the lands where you are.”(36)

Although the Mi’kmaq signed a treaty of Peace and Friendship with the English settlers, Kjiputuk, the Great Harbour will always hold a significant value to the Mi’kmaq people since it truly is Amntu'kati – the place of spirits.


1 French wrote it as Chebucto, for the Mi’kmaq word “Kjipuktuk” which means great harbour.

2 Ingalls, Sharon and Wayne. “Sweet Suburb: A History of Prince’s Lodge, Birch Cove and Rockingham”. Glen Margaret Pub,Publishing, 2010, 1st Edition, 1st Printing 2010 at p 11.

3 Hoffman, Bernard, “Historical Ethnography of the Micmac of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”, PhD dissertation, Berkley: University of California, 1955 at 533. The district Sipekne’katik, "ground nut place" consisted of the modem day counties of Colchester, Hants, Kings, Halifax and Lunenburg.

4 Nietfeld, P K L 1981 “Determinants of Aboriginal Micmac Political Structure.” Albuquerque, New Mexico: Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico at p 466.

5 Wicken,William C., Thesis: Encounter with Tall Sails and Tall Tales: Mi’kmaq Society,1500-1760, McGill University, 1994 at p 131.

6 Saqamawutis for the area of the District Chief. or when speaking to another Mi'kmaq in stating which district you are from, you would use the word Kmitkinu or L'nu wutan as to describe the district of your village is in, Maqamigal, which mean lands, territories.

7 Miller, Virginia P., “Social and political complexity on the East Coast: the Micmac Case”, Ron Nash, ed, The Evoloution of Maritime Cultures on the Northeast and Northwest Coasts of America, Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, 1983, Dept of Anthropology Publication no 11 at p 47.

8 Ibid.

9 Halwas, Sara. 2006. MA Archaeology, entitled: “Where the Wild Tings Grow: A Palaeoethnobotanical Study of Late Woodland Plant Use at Clam Cove”, Nova Scotia.

10 Champlain, Samuel de. (2013). pp. 114-5. Voyages of Samuel de Champlain: 1604-1618. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1907).

11 Amntu'kati, which is a spirit place or the place of spirits, on the other side of Point Pleasant park there is a small cove that is protected by the rough seas, it is Wejkwe'tukwaqn which means to come to a legend, or where the legend comes from, it is the place where Mi’kmaq Legendary Warrior Amntu' resides at his Lodge and Guards the Eastern Door to protect the Lnu'k, the people from any dangers that come from the open sea.

12 Byrd Awalt speaks of this in his essay from multiple sources, including oral, however Byrd Mi’kmaq was slightly off. Don (Byrd) Awalt “The Mi’kmaq and Point Pleasant Park An Historical Essay in Progress,” Halifax, NS at p 2.

13 Akins, Thomas B. “History of Halifax City”; Murdoch, Beamish. “History of Nova Scotia or Acadie, in 3 Volumes”; Raddall, Thomas H. “Halifax, Warden of the North.”

14 Bourque, Bruce J, Twelve Thousand Years, American Indians in Maine, University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

15 Clowes, History of the Royal Navy, 3: 116-117; Douglas, 'Nova Scotia and the Royal Navy', 116-130;
Graham, Empire of the North Atlantic, 132-134; Jenkins, History of the French Navy, 113-114.

16 James Pritchard. “Anatomy of a Naval Disaster: The 1746 French Expedition to North America.” Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995 at p 143.

17 Thomas Chandler Haliburton, in Ruth Holmes Whitehead, The Old Man Told Us: Excerpts from Micmac History, 1500-1950 (Halifax: Nimbus Publishing, 1991) at 108 [Old Man Told Us].

18 Ibid.

19 Ingalls, Sharon and Wayne. “Sweet Suburb: A History of Prince’s Lodge, Birch Cove and Rockingham”. Glen Margaret Pub,Publishing, 2010, 1st Edition, 1st Printing 2010 at 14 [Sweet Suburb].

20 Halifax Peninsula where , if you follow the Halifax Peninsula around it comes to a small cove that is protected by the rough seas what is now referred to has the Armdale Rotary, it is called Wejkwe'tukwaqn which means “to come to a legend”, or “where the legend comes from”, it is the place where our Legendary Warrior Amntu' resides at his Lodge (Amntu'apsi’kan or “Sprit Lodge”) and guards the Eastern Door to protect the Lnu'k, “the people” from any dangers that come from the open sea.

21 Akins, Thomas Beamish, “History of Halifax City, Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society for the years 1892-1894”, v.8, Halifax: Morning Herald Printing and Publishing, 1895.

22 Ibid.

23 : O’neill, Dianne, curator, At the Great Harbour: 250 Years on the Halifax Waterfront, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1995 [Great Harbour].

24 Ibid.

25 A. J. B. Johnston, Endgame 1758: The Promise, the Glory and the Despair of Louisbourg’s Last Decade (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007 at p 24.

26 O’neill, Dianne, curator, At the Great Harbour: 250 Years on the Halifax Waterfront, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1995.

27 A. J. B. Johnston, Endgame 1758: The Promise, the Glory and the Despair of Louisbourg’s Last Decade (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007 at p 39 [Endgame]. (Pisiguit derived from the Mi’kmaq word Pesaquid, meaning "Junction of Waters".)

28 The Micmac, supra note 45, at p 364.

29 Fergusson, Charles Bruce, John Doucett, Dalhousie University, Halifax, 2012,

30 Akins, Thomas B., Selections from the Public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia, Resolution of the House of Assembly, 1865.

31 Ibid.

32 Endgame, supra note 22, at p 40.

33 John Mack Faragher, A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005) at p 282.

34 Haliburton, History of Nova Scotia, vol. 1, p. 317; Brebner, New England's Outpost, p. 186.

35 Akins, Public Documents of Nova Scotia, p. 671. Council Minutes, Halifax, 14 September 1752 at p 671.

36 Akins, Public Documents of Nova Scotia, p. 673. Council Minutes, Halifax, 16 September, 1752 at p 673.

Updated: 01 Apr 2016 Print Page