Thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers, the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia called themselves L’nu’k, which simply means ‘the people,’ ‘human beings.’ Their present name, Mi’kmaq, derives from nikmaq, meaning ‘my kin-friends.’ Their descendants are still living in the area now known as the Atlantic Provinces and the Southern Gaspe Bay Peninsula in Canada. This area is known to Mi’kmaw people as Mi’kma’ki. Many also make their homes in New England in the United States, particularly in Maine and Massachusetts.
We often think of the Mi’kmaq as Canadian, but they are Algonquian, as were many of the New England and coastal tribes as far south as North Carolina. The Powhatan at Jamestown and the Hatteras (original Croatoan) Indians in North Carolina were both Algonquian tribes.
The Nova Scotia Museum’s Mi’kmaq Portraits Collection is a database of more than 700 portraits and illustrations that provides a glimpse into the history of the Mi’kmaq of Atlantic Canada. The collection results from research by the Museum over many years, often with the participation of Mi’kmaq individuals and other institutions. While the collection does not list all of the historical Mi’kmaq portraits still in existence, it is a beginning and is a tool for educators and students to learn about Mi’kmaq heritage, while offering researchers access to a comprehensive collection of images.
This picture, taken in the mid 1800s in Annapolis Royal is of Molly Muise who lived to a great age and was so much respected by her white neighbors that they erected a tombstone to her memory. Her dates of birth and death are not known. This may be the earliest portrait of a Mi’kmaq by a photographic process. Molly Muise (the name was originally the French ‘Mius’ and is now spelled Meuse and Muse as well) is wearing a peaked cap with double-curve beadwork, a dark shirt, a short jacket with darker cuffs, over which she apparently has draped a second short jacket, its sleeves pulled inside, as a capelet. Her traditional dress with the large fold at the top is held up by suspenders with ornamental tabs. In her hands she seems to be clutching a white handkerchief.
Hat tip to Elaine for this site.