Mi’kmaq Portraits Collection from the Nova Scotia Museum

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.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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8 Responses to Mi’kmaq Portraits Collection from the Nova Scotia Museum

  1. steven meuse says:

    I do not know how to trace my surname meuse back to the micac tribe

  2. Susan says:

    I discovered that my great, great grandmother Mary Ritchie was Mi’kmaq. Do you know how I could find out more about her? Thank you.

    • Tim Ritchie says:

      I am a ritchie also and my grandfather was Mi’kmaq I would love to find out if you have found anything

      • Susan says:

        Hi Tim, I discovered my relative, Mary Ritchie, through my ancestry.com searching. I was told by several relatives from NS that Mary was Mi’kmaq, either 100% or half? She was married to William Cox from England, who received a land grant of 400 acres after fighting in the War of 1812. Are you related to these people too?

      • Judith Wile says:

        i read your posting about your grandfather being Mi’kmaq. Was his surname Ritchie? I have been trying to find out details about Mary Ritchie and her husband William Cox for many years. I know they settled in the Noel Shore area of Hants County,Nova Scotia in the early 1800’s. Family lore says she was of Mi’kmaq heritage. I cannot find out who her parents were. I cannot find any BMD Vital Stats on Mary either.I heard she and William were married in the USA after the War of 1812-1814. William was a British soldier, he got a land grant in the Noel Shore area of Hants County,Nova Scotia where they settled and had a large family.
        If your grandfather’s surname is Ritchie what can you tell me about him? Where he was born,DOB, DOD, who he married, where he lived, his parents names, etc.
        Any info. you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    • Judith Wile says:

      Susan: I am a descendant of Mary Ritchie your great,great grandmother. I also have heard that Mary was of Mi’kmaq heritage. I have heard that she was born in the early 1800’s and died in Maine,USA in 1899. Mary married William Cox about 1817 USA. William was born in England. They settled in Hants County,Nova Scotia,Canada. I do not have any sources for my info. It is info. from family folk lore that i have collected over the years. I cannot find out who Mary’s parents were. I also do not know if Mary had any siblings. Have you found out any new info. since your posting?

  3. paul campbell says:

    If wanting to learn more about the Mi’kmaq Nova Scotia Culture, from early Missionaries records, a scholarly book, “Unscripted America”, written by Dr Sarah Rivett, might give a better understanding of this Anishinaabe Nation.
    Paul Campbell

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