This text is taken from the script for an interpretive program that Muin’iskw used to give at Kejimkujik National Park around 2005. These programs were done in the form of slide shows, and I have added slides similar to the ones she used for her actual presentation. In effect, this will be like having attended her program in real life.



The north-eastern region of North America, which includes the Maritimes provinces, Newfoundland, the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, and into northern Maine, has been home to my Ancestors, the Mi’kmaq people, since time immemorial. The Mi’kmaq divided their territory into seven districts; the south-western portion of Nova Scotia was known to them as Kespukwitk, or “Land Ends.”


Situated in the center of this district is one of the larger natural lakes. This lake was known by the early Mi’kmaq as Cegumcaga Lake. Over time, the name of the lake changed to Fairy Lake, and eventually it became known as we know it today: Kejimkujik Lake.


The Kejimkujik area is characterised by an interconnected network of lakes, rivers, and streams, all surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful mixed forests. It’s in this tranquil setting that one can get a strong sense of the First Peoples’ presence, and a rich history of traditional land use.


The waterways provided an extensive transportation system that the Mi’kmaq used as a regular part of their semi-nomadic lifestyle, regularly moving between the coastal areas and inland during the seasonal changes, in search of food and other resources.


Kejimkujik has been a National Park for more than three decades, yet its importance to the Mi’kmaq is based on millennia of Ancestral history. The oral traditions tell of a continuous presence here since time immemorial. Documentation of various aspects of the history of Kejimkujik has taken place since the mid-1800s, which has increased our knowledge and understanding of how the Ancestors once lived here in Kejimkujik. We now know that the Ancestors left an invaluable imprint upon this place. Through careful research and documentation, numerous ancient sites dating back as far as 5000 years have been identified here in the park. This includes remnants of seasonal campsites, fish weirs, numerous trails and portages, and burial grounds. Our Ancestors also left us with another legacy: the many islands, rivers, and lakes within Kejimkujik still bear names that are of Mi’kmaw origin.


But perhaps the most distinctive evidence of early Mi’kmaq presence is the written historical records which have withstood the test of time. These are the records of a historical journey of our people, carefully etched upon Mother Nature’s blackboards: the slate outcrops found along the shores of Kejimkujik Lake. These slates originated millions of years ago as sedimentary beds, eventually transformed into slate beds and tilted almost vertically to the surface. During our last glaciation period, approximately ten thousand years ago, these tilted slate beds were scoured and polished to produce smooth cross-sections of the bedding surfaces. Today the outcrops lie close to the ground, following the gradual slope of the land into the water. Part of the year our water levels are high, and only small areas of these slates are visible. As the water levels drop - usually by mid-summer – large expanses of these rocks appear, showing off their smooth surfaces. It is on these surfaces that the ancient writers took advantage of the smoothness and softness of the slate, which allowed the artist to easily mark on the surface.


At first glance it’s not obvious that there is anything special about these slate outcrops along our shores. However, if one takes a closer look they may see one of the many unique images which were placed upon these rocks by the early Mi’kmaq people centuries ago. The images were either incised (carved) or pecked (chipped) into the rock, using various types of tools made from stone or bone. I refer to these images as kunntewi’kaqn (goon doe WEE gah en) which literally means “writings on stone”. Today they are commonly referred to as petroglyphs. There are approximately 500 different petroglyphs within four main sites here in Kejimkujik, making this the largest collection of such imagery in eastern North America.


The initial appearance of a freshly carved petroglyph would have been quite noticeable, with its white lines starkly contrasting with the dark slate. Over time, these images have weathered, and their lines have slowly faded back to the original colour of the rock, blending with the natural cracks and abrasions which cover the rock surface.


Today these images are difficult to see, and usually impossible for the untrained eye to distinguish from a distance of more than two or three feet away. However, despite their faint and fragile existence, these are a valuable and irreplaceable link to our Mi’kmaq Ancestors, who knew these woods and waters long ago.


So why did the early Mi’kmaq people carve imagery into these rocks along the shores of Kejimkujik? Unfortunately, we do not know all the reasons why these images were done. However, there is no doubt that the majority of these images indicate the passing on of information: perhaps the documentation of important events which took place here in Kejimkujik; possibly a telling of stories, legends, or myth; or maybe it was a teaching being passed down from an Elder to a child. Keep in mind, though, that some of the petroglyphs may only have been doodling, at the time they were done.


These images cover a wide variety of topics and form a rich store of information about early Mi’kmaq life here in the Kejimkujik area, depicting many aspects of the lifestyle of a semi-nomadic culture. This evening I want to share with you some of my knowledge about the petroglyphs. I have been honoured and privileged to have had the opportunity to learn about these images for many years, and it is important to me that I share what I know, not only with my people, but also with any who are interested. At the same time, I want to share with you some of the stories behind them.


One of the most numerous types of images are those that represent the human form. Well… some of these are indeed human figures, but some may well be figures of beings other than human, as we’ll see a little later. The interesting thing about the human figures is that the majority of them are of an hourglass shape. This is a unique feature of the Mi’kmaq petroglyphs, where human shapes are depicted in a symbolic way, rather than realistically.


This is nukumi’ (NOO goo mee - grandmother) as I call her. This image is used today by our Mi’kmaq artists, and you find her on book covers and such.


This young lady is our very own Mi’kmaq Cinderella, who got dressed up in a birchbark dress and leggings that she made and her father’s old moccasins to see if she could win the heart of the handsome legendary Invisible Hunter.

(note: see story here)


Also in our collection we have an assortment of hands and feet. Many of these hands and feet are drawn with representations of flexion lines and prints. This one here has two hats in the palm area. One is the peaked hat of a woman, and the other is a man’s hat. Perhaps the artist who did this image did an outline of his hand, and placed the two hats in the palm to represent himself and his wife.


This hand the size of a six or seven year old child, yet it is an adult hand. The story behind this image says that, a long time ago, a Medicine Man from the west direction came to our people at a time of great sickness. He was only about four feet tall, yet he was a strong Medicine Man. He cured many people, and before he left to go back to his homeland, he went to one of the petroglyph sites and knelt down to give thanks to our Creator for giving him medicine to help people. As he knelt down he placed his one hand on the rock. Because of his strong medicine, he left an imprint on the stone. Someone then came along later and carved the outline of the hand.

(note: see story here)


At least 61 petroglyphs depict the woman’s peaked hats. This style of hat is unique to the Mi’kmaq, and is not found in any other North American culture. These images were often carved with intricate decorative detail.


The peaked hat is one of the most common images on the rocks, indicating the importance of the peaked hat in the Mi’kmaq culture. Indeed, these hats were considered so sacred that men were forbidden to touch them. The number of images also suggests to me that there was an intriguing link between the women and the slate outcrops.


This is the largest peaked hat we have…

…and these are some of the smallest ones, which are the size of a dime.


Also on these rocks are representations of pure design elements. This one here is the largest piece of decorative art; I refer to this one as the Mawi’omi (mah wee OH mee), a representation of a Gathering of the people from the seven districts who would come together on an annual basis to discuss hunting territories and social conditions of the various districts, to arrange marriages between families, and above all to discuss the well-being and protection of the people. During the time the men were sitting in discussions, women would be busy preparing for the celebrations and feasting. Some women may have been recording these activities, as this image suggests.


Also, I have learned that curvilinear designs are representations of our journeys in life. In some instances our journeys have two paths, the path of our physical life and our spiritual path.


Animals were very important to the people. Their spirits could be called on by the people in times of need for feed, medicine, or guidance. Before a hunt a ceremony would have been done by the hunter, to ask the animal spirit to give its life so that the people could live.


Once the animal was brought down, another ceremony would take place to free the spirit of the animal so that it could come back again. Animal spirits were also called on for protection and strength.


Hunting, fishing, and gathering were definitely an important part of the everyday lives of the people. Here we see a caribou hunt scene. Caribou were once plentiful in this area, and it is said that the last caribou hunt was carried out here in the late 1800s. There is still an Elder alive today who can tell the story of his grandfather hunting caribou here in Keji.


Here is a fishing scene. This slide shows the porpoise hunt. This, of course, was an activity that took place along the coastal areas, as we do not have porpoises here. Perhaps the person who was fishing one summer came to Keji, and told his story of a plentiful summer.


Here we have a small whale hunt, again an activity along the coastal waters.


One interesting point that should be mentioned is that we don’t see a lot of images of plant life. Yet plants were just as important to the people as animals, fish, and birds. Plants were sources of both food and natural medicines. Strangely, there are very few images among the petroglyphs


As a major form of transportation, the canoe is represented in 28 images. Many of these clearly show the distinctive form of a Mi’kmaw canoe. The unique high gunwales and sails made it suitable for seagoing travel.


In a story I was told, during the annual gatherings of the people, they would travel from far distances, crossing large bodies of water such as the Bay of Fundy, crossing the ocean to the state of Maine, and even as far as Newfoundland.


I started off this evening talking about the human shape images, but not all of the human shapes are representing people. Actually, some of these images are of supernatural beings. In our culture, we believe that there are four races of Little People: the Putlatamu’j (boo dah LAH dah mooj – at right,) the Ni’kmwesu (nee gum weh soo – at left,) the Salstoq (sahl stoh,) and the Puktewsatulkwultiji’k (book toe sah dool GWOOL dee jeek). The Salstoq spoke the old Mi’kmaw language, but they never wanted to be civilized. The Puktewsatulkwultiji’k are the “people who smoke,” and they are red and are a very small race.


Place yourself in the past, sitting upon a rock beside a storyteller who is patiently carving an illustration as he re-tells the legend of the great Kulloo (GOO loo) bird, who granted special magical powers to the successful Mi’kmaq hunter who caught it.


Then there is the Great Horned Serpent, who is believed to inhabit the lakes here in Keji. Legends tell how the Horned Serpent would take young Mi’kmaq men, marry them, and take them back to their underwater world. In the same way, every year as the water levels rise towards the winter, the petroglyph of the Serpent returns to her home beneath the waves.


Ships inscribed on our rocks tell the story of changes in the lives of our Ancestors. There is a petroglyph I know of which tells the story of the coming of the Europeans. In this petroglyph it was told that this race would arrive in the night, and with them they would bring a new religion to the people, forever changing their lives.


This new religion was Christianity. It is said that the first Mi’kmaw that was baptised into the Catholic religion was Grand Chief Membertou and his family. The baptism took place at Port Royal in 1610. Membertou is said to be over 100 years old when he was baptized.


As time progressed and changes took place, my Ancestors began to learn the ways of the Europeans. They also learned to read and write, and today we find some names of those early people inscribed upon the petroglyph sites.


The images I have shown you are only a glimpse of the past. These are invaluable records of the historical journey of the people. Unfortunately time has seen an accumulation of damage to these fragile records. Without a doubt, the devastating effects of weathering, erosion, and human impact are the major factors which have directly affected the condition, and the very existence, of these images through time. The fragile nature of these sites cannot be stressed enough. Just to give you an idea of how delicate these images are, simply walking on these outcrops wearing shoes will cause surface damage that could be the final ‘step’ in obliterating an important message.


Human impact has certainly left its mark on these special sites over the years. Unfortunately these sites have even been subjected to vandalism. Many visitors over the years have intentionally or unintentionally defaced a lot of the images. There is an understandable temptation to leave one’s mark for the future on these inviting smooth surfaces, just as the Mi’kmaq did many years ago. However, no one has the right to destroy a history, whether it be knowingly or unknowingly.


Our petroglyph sites are considered Sacred Sites by today’s Mi’kmaq people, and it is realized that their protection is of the utmost importance. To ensure that proper protective measures are taken, these sites today are designated as restricted areas. We have placed signs throughout these areas on land and water, identifying them as sacred sites and restricting access to them. We also have staff members who specifically patrol these sites daily during the summer months.


However, to promote public awareness of these sites, interpretive programs and daily tours are given as a means of teaching people about their significance. There is also a continuous effort taken to develop new ways to improve petroglyph protection and to ensure that these sites are preserved to the best of our abilities.


Sadly, while vandalism is reduced it has not stopped, and every year new graffiti is discovered. Well-meaning people have suggested that we build structures over these outcrops, or even remove the rocks and place them in a controlled environment. But then we would be altering their natural setting. Mi’kmaq Elders have told us that the petroglyphs were not meant to last forever. We must simply respect these sites and leave them in their natural setting. The images belong with Mother Earth, and she will take care of them. However, while they are here, the Mi’kmaq people can and must learn all we can about them, and in our turn we must pass on our understanding to future generations and forever hold these images in our memories.


In 1993, Parks Canada recognized the importance of the Mi’kmaq history represented within Kejimkujik National Park. They formed a joint committee with the Mi’kmaq to discuss the designation of the entire park as a landscape of national historic significance. The following year a submission was made to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The designation was approved by the Minister in the spring of 1995, thus officially recognizing the historical value of Kejimkujik and creating a mandate to protect this cultural heritage.


Kejimkujik is certainly a park of great beauty, and it echoes with the footsteps of ancient history. There is no doubt that the petroglyphs hold valuable information of the past, as they do in fact portray various aspects of peoples’ lifestyles, their traditions, and their culture. However, every location within the park bears witness to the presence of the Ancestors of the Mi’kmaq. This is a place where information was left for the next generation to receive, where teaching and learning took place, and where connections were made to other worlds and other times.


We ask all park visitors to join us in honouring the rich heritage left to us by the Mi’kmaq Ancestors. Walking the same secluded pathways as the Ancestors, breathing the same rich forest air, taking in the silence that is broken only by the sounds of nature, it is impossible not to feel a sense of reverence for this place. So, whether you are driving in the park, hiking our trails, or canoeing our waters, remember that the Ancestors were here long before us, and left their imprint upon this land. As you pass through, do so with the same respect as the Mi’kmaq people who came this way before you. In that way, Kejimkujik will remain a special place for every one of us, where we can come and touch the past, in the present, for the future. For this is where our records are… the journal of our voyage through time. Our history, written in stone.


Msit no’kmaq – all my relations.

Updated: 01 Apr 2016 Print Page