18th Century Mi'kmaw-French Alliance
In the 18th century, northeastern North America was the site of conflict and outright war between colonial powers, settlers and First Nations. In Mi’kmaw territory, which included present-day Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, the eastern coast of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula around Chaleur Bay, the French, British and Mi’kmaq fought for control of land, trade, fisheries and settlement. The French and British both sought to expand their colonial empires, while the Mi’kmaq, who held the key to both trade and security in the region, wanted to engage in trade but retain their territory. Within this increasingly hostile environment, the Mi’kmaq and French joined forces against their mutual adversary: the British. This cooperation in war was based on a formal alliance between the French Crown and Mi’kmaw leaders, an alliance that grew out of long-standing relationships and ties of religion and trade dating back centuries.
Formally renewed each year in ceremonies that included speeches, feasting and the exchange of gifts, the alliance reflected both Mi’kmaw and French understandings of diplomacy and provides a specific example of how formal relationships were negotiated and cultural understandings were accommodated in France’s North American empire. Beginning in the 1720s, the annual renewal ceremonies took place at Port-la-Joye on Île Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) and Port Toulouse on Île-Royale (now Cape Breton Island), and included the distribution of weapons to the Mi’kmaq and an agreement to fight the British together. The relationship between the French and Mi’kmaq illustrates the interdependent nature of French-Aboriginal relations as it was one of mutual need in trade and war. Both partners required the help of the other: France’s position in the Maritime region was dependent on the military assistance of the Mi’kmaq, as French garrisons were too small to fight the British alone, while the Mi’kmaq needed the weapons provided by the French to wage war against the British, who were encroaching on their land base. It is clear that in this relationship, the Mi’kmaq were not pawns to French imperial objectives, but instead they acted according to their interests and fought the British in an attempt to maintain their lands.
The alliance was effective and had a direct impact in the colonial wars of the Maritime region. Mi’kmaq fought side-by-side with French soldiers and also engaged in their own raids on British ships and settlements. The cooperation of the Mi’kmaq and French against the British slowed the growth of the colony of Nova Scotia and hampered British success in war. In 1758, after over half a century of hostility, the once strong fortress of Louisbourg finally fell to the British, and the French lost their foothold in the Maritime region. Without their French allies, the Mi’kmaq were unable to sustain their war against the British. The Mi’kmaq and the British signed Peace and Friendship Treaties in 1760 and 1761, and the Mi’kmaq entered a new phase in their history as the British settlement and colonial government took hold in the region.
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Title of the Image: Mi'kmaq Chief c. 1740 - Reconstitution by Francis Back
Source of the Image: Fortress of Louisbourg [Parks Canada]
(5th Image from the top of webpage)
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