(As told by Lionel Kitpu’se Pinn © 2005)
As a child I recall vividly my dear Nana, Lucy Marie Charles, sharing stories of our Mi’kmaq heritage. Some stories stood above others. One in particular had to do with the origins of our Mi’kmaq people. The creation story, as Lucy shared it, was complicated and detailed. There was Glooscap and Martin involved; rocks, islands, fish and little people too. The one thing that really stuck was our physical manifestation. I can still hear her strong voice moving back and forward between her native language and English, “We came from the earth.” As a young impressible child that made a significant impact on me, “from the Earth." All I could relate it to was the dying process, we all go back to the earth but coming from the earth was a new, if not disturbing, concept. She recognized my hesitation and reinforced her proclamation whenever the subject came up, “We came from the Earth”. The earth she referred to was Nova Scotia, Canada. As I grew older and she felt I was ready to learn and understand more she added that the Mi’kmaq people actually rose up from the earth, made up of rock, dirt and minerals of all kinds. From the sweetness of that earthly mixture arose the first Mi’kmaq. One of our first gifts from the Creator was the ability to recognize and honor that which created us. We were also given the gift of intelligence and wisdom. The previously “disturbing” concept left me early as a teenager and into adulthood. Coming from the Earth was and is a good thing. It roots us to our homeland, it gives us our identity. Nana would smile with pride and note that, “We are still in the same place from where we came from, the same good earth.” She would add, “None of the other tribes can say that. They have been pushed up and out of their homelands but us Mi’kmaq’s are still here at our birth place!”
Her pride, like her blood, soaked through me. In time it was a comfortable and honorable thing to know that my roots were as deep and as real as the soil I walked on and the rivers I swam in. Things were just cool as they could be, that was until the day the college guy came to my Nana’s house. He was there to interview her. I am thinking he was an anthropologist or a history student working on dissertation. He wanted to talk about the Mi’kmaq histories and legends. She obliged the young man with a cup of tea and all his questions. I sat, as a protector, at the kitchen table with them. At one point he asks about the Mi’kmaq creation story and Nana shared the story I had heard all my life, “We came from the Earth”. After she had finished the young man leaned back in his chair, shaking his head in disbelief, rolled his eyes and stated, “Mrs. Charles that is only a children’s story and fable of your people”. He tossed his pencil on to his notepad and went on to testify about the true creation story, as he understood it. The Adam and Eve concept and, more importantly, the land bridge theory. I shuffled in my seat as I prepared for the worst, a tea cup being slung across the kitchen, a broom coming out of the closet or a slap up side his intellectual head. Nana never hesitated to reinforce her unyielding belief system on anyone. The story of “We came from the Earth” has been handed down from generation to generation, as long as our family has been here. I have never heard anyone, with such conviction, challenge her. This young man unknowingly was doing just that. He went on to explain the scientific realities of the facts. The African and Asian connection, the extended land bridge; as well as the 20,000 years of travels and evidence of the coming of the Mi’kmaq to this place, he called the “new world.” My beloved Nana just sat there. I was stunned. Occasionally she would smile back at the long winded young man and nod her head in apparent understanding. After his overextended dissertation of the land bridge theory he came to rest and began to gather up his materials. He seemed a little uppity about his stance and evidence. It bordered on disrespect but still Nana smiled in an almost complacent posture. He thank my grandmother for her time and noted that he was glad that he could get her “squared away” about the creation and the origins of the Mi’kmaq people. He said his goodbyes and as I was escorting him to the front door, he turned one more time to the aged elder and ask, “Do you understand and accept the land bridge theory now Mrs. Charles?” In her special way she replied, “Yes I do young man, it all makes sense to me now. The 20,000 years of evidence and proof they found along the bridge makes it real.”
My mind was stunned; my life long belief system was shattered. My heritage and my culture were in question, my spirit hurt! I reached the front door of my Nana’s house and as I open to free my life of this man who had brought such an, unchallenged, revelation into it I heard my dear Nana’s strong voice once again, “Yes, I believe in the land bridge theory, except for one thing…” The young man stood outside the front door and turned to hear her “exception”. “Write this down on your paper”. She pointed with her finger, “There was a land bridge but, we went that way!” I looked for a moment and then began to smile with understanding. I then turned toward the open mouthed young man just outside the door and then simply closed the door in his shocked face. When I turned around my Nana was heading back toward the kitchen. “That was helpful,” she noted, “I’m glad he stopped by.” I was almost laughing out loud. The truth be told.
Addendum: After reading Alex Ewen's extensive work regarding entitled “Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 1 – Part 6” I could not help but recall a well versed teacher in my life, my Nana, Lucy Marie Charles Pinn, who had a similar story. I should first point out that while the deepest roots of our being will never be known by us it does not allow us to ignore or deny that the roots are there. As a Mi’kmaq being we are taught that just because we don't know the earthly name of our ancestors does not mean they were not here and, in fact, thrived and survived in order for us to enjoy our own existence. With that known fact, we honor and remember the ancestors in our daily ways. That could be sitting on a pew at the favorite church, standing by a mountain top, fishing for ell or shopping at the local store. Every day in every way, we honor those who came before us, by those actions. Just because we don't know their given names should not stop us from smiling and nodding in appreciation of their unknown time and sacred work. While on the surface, my Nana’s story will not have the scholarly authenticity of that deep archaeological and scientific perspective it is as true as the sand on the beach or sun in the sky to me and my family. When you read her story of the land bridge, you will clearly see why her truth is as deep as it goes. —7/30/14, Lionel
Lionel Kitpu'se Pinn is a MiKmaq from Nova Scotia and author of the critically acclaimed book, Greengrass Pipe Dancers (Naturegraph Publishers). He currently lives with his wife Hilda in Washington State.