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First Nations, Identity, and Reserve Life

The Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia

Simone Poliandri

Publication Year: 2011

Issues of identity figure prominently in Native North American communities, mediating their histories, traditions, culture, and status. This is certainly true of the Mi’kmaw people of Nova Scotia, whose lives on reserves create highly complex economic, social, political, and spiritual realities. This ethnography investigates identity construction and negotiations among the Mi’kmaq, as well as the role of identity dynamics in Mi’kmaw social relationships on and off the reserve. Featuring direct testimonies from over sixty individuals, this work offers a vivid firsthand perspective on contemporary Mi’kmaw reserve life.

Simone Poliandri begins First Nations, Identity, and Reserve Life with a search for the criteria used by the Mi’kmaq to construct their identities, which are traced within the context of their different perceptions of community, tradition, spirituality, relationship with the Catholic Church, and the recent reevaluation of the iconic figure of late activist Annie Mae Aquash. Building on the notions of self-identification and ascribed identity as the primary components of identity, Poliandri argues that placing others at specific locations within the social landscape of their communities allows the Mi’kmaq to define and reinforce their own spaces by way of association, contrast, or both. This identification of others highlights Mi’kmaw people’s agency in shaping and monitoring the representations of their identities. With its theoretical insights, this richly textured ethnography will enhance understanding of identity dynamics among Indigenous communities even as it illuminates the unique nature of the Mi’kmaw people.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. viii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xvi

This study is based on fieldwork and archival research conducted between 2003 and 2007. The seeds for this work were planted during a previous research project that I conducted in 2000, when I investigated the current significance...

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Acknowledgments / Maps

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pp. xvii-xxiii

For the accomplishment of this work I am deeply indebted to many people. To begin with, I wish to thank all the Mi’kmaw men, women, and children who welcomed me into their communities and homes both during...

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pp. 1-17

A couple of days after my arrival in Nova Scotia in early August of 2003, I attended the powwow,1 or Mawio’mi2 in the Mi’kmaw3 language, organized by the Millbrook band.4 Part of my decision to begin my research in...

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1. The Mi’kmaq: Socio-Geographic Context and Historical Background

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pp. 19-42

This study was mainly conducted among the populations of the Millbrook and Indian Brook reserves, belonging respectively to the Millbrook and Indian Brook First Nations or bands, located in central Nova Scotia...

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2. Tracing the Boundaries: Community, Social Relationships, and Mi’kmaw Identity

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pp. 43-100

Willow Street is a two-lane road running north-south from downtown Truro. It once functioned as the main artery connecting central Nova Scotia to the city of Halifax and to the western shore of the province. In its last part Willow Street...

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3. Back to the Future, Ahead to the Past? Mi’kmaw Perceptions of Tradition

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pp. 101-134

What is Mi’kmaw tradition? “It is Native spirituality, traditional spirituality.” “It is the Mi’kmaw, and only Mi’kmaw, ceremonies.” “It is a mixture of imported elements from other Native...

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4. The Way of the Pipe: Native Spirituality and Mi’kmaw Identity

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pp. 135-182

The following two chapters explore one of the most significant sources and realms of identity construction and management among most Mi’kmaq in the reserves of Nova Scotia: spiritual belief. This chapter...

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5. The Way of the Cross: The Catholic Church and Mi’kmaw Identity

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pp. 183-238

These statements, like those on Mi’kmaw tradition at the beginning of chapter 3, exemplify the wide spectrum of opinions and sentiments that the Mi’kmaw people express about the Catholic Church. Most Mi’kmaq have ideas...

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6. Annie Mae Aquash: A Renewed Source of Mi’kmaw Identity and Pride

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pp. 239-263

In June 2004, the body of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash, a Mi’kmaw woman and radical activist, was brought from the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota back to her community of birth, the Indian Brook...

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pp. 265-273

Mi’kmaw identity is a contested issue in the reserves of mainland Nova Scotia. These statements, which represent some of the innumerable points of view that I encountered among the Mi’kmaq, illustrate clearly...


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pp. 275-314


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pp. 315-335


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pp. 337-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780803238114
E-ISBN-10: 0803238118
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803237711
Print-ISBN-10: 0803237715

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 18 illustrations, 7 maps
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 818410693
MUSE Marc Record: Download for First Nations, Identity, and Reserve Life

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Truro Region (N.S.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Truro Region (N.S.) -- History.
  • Indian reservations -- Nova Scotia -- Truro Region -- History.
  • Indian Brook First Nation -- History.
  • Micmac Indians -- Nova Scotia -- Truro Region -- Social life and customs.
  • Micmac Indians -- Nova Scotia -- Truro Region -- Ethnic identity.
  • Micmac Indians -- Nova Scotia -- Truro Region -- History.
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