Escape from Home – Atlantic Canada
Anna and Trevor Delaney (Delightful Travellers) escaped from home with Destination Indigenous, making their way through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to various Indigenous communities where they learned about the history, culture and heritage of the Mi’kmaq people in the Atlantic Region. They did trail walks, visited Heritage Centres, tried some amazing food and got to experience traditional Mi’kmaq songs, dance and ceremonies.
Day 1 – Starting in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Just minutes from the Englishtown Ferry (at the base of the Cape Breton Highlands) is Kluskap Ridge RV and Campground. When we arrived we were immediately greeted by co-owners Darrell Bernard and Aiden Christmas. We hopped in a golf cart for a full tour of the immense property (about 100 acres of which they use about 12 acres for the campgrounds). Throughout the property, you’ll find serviced campsites, RV sites and a couple of cabins. In regular years they also have Teepees and glamping tents which typically get booked up. One of the major highlights of staying here is getting to meet and chat with the owners. Certain evenings of the week they’ll gather the campers around the fire to make traditional bread, perform songs (drums and vocals), dance and tell stories. One of the songs they performed for us dated back thousands of years, another a few decades. Aiden also told us stories that have passed down through the generations, one of how Glooscap obtained the game of Lacrosse for the Mi’kmaq people.
Day 2 – Cape Breton to mainland Nova Scotia
Goat Island, Eskasoni
Eskasoni is the largest Mi’kmaq community in the world with about 5,000 residents. Here you’ll find Goat Island, just off the coast of Eskasoni (connected by a small bridge) and directly on the stunning Bras d’or Lakes. It’s worth visiting just for a trail walk and the incredible views, but the real gem is Eskasoni Cultural Journeys. We were met by our tour guide Matthew Patles. You have a choice to either do a guided walk through the trail or take a golf cart. We’d typically opt to get the exercise and take our time, but knowing we had a long drive ahead of us we decided to do the golf cart. If you do choose to walk, the trail is about 2.4 KM around and takes about 2-2.5 hours.
As we made our way through the trail we stopped at six interpretive sites or villages, each with a different focus of Indigenous life, culture and history. Each site has its own interpreter with specific expertise. We learned about weapons and tools, the materials used to create them and what they would be used for and how they developed and evolved over time. The second stop was to learn about Mi’kmaq dances as well as natural medicines, a highlight was definitely getting to learn a few dance steps ourselves. At the next site, we got to bake bread over a campfire. On stop number four we learned about basket weaving where we also got to make our own bookmarks using the basic premises of basket weaving. Next up we learned about weapons and hunting, and how the technology evolved over time. Lastly, we were escorted into a teepee where we got to experience a brief smudging ceremony where we learned a bit about the history and importance as well as the modern use of smudging.
Day 3 – Mainland Nova Scotia to New Brunswick
We’d sadly driven by the Millbrook Cultural & Heritage Centre so many times but had never visited. We were greeted by Operations Supervisor Heather Stevens and given a tour by our guide Garrett. The tour starts off with a 20-minute video about the Mi’kmaq which takes us through some important history, starting off in ancient times, making its way through the arrival of the Europeans and the effect this had on the Mi’kmaq people throughout the region, and eventually ending with more recent times. Afterwards, Garrett took us on a tour through the facilities where we discussed some of the 13,500 years of history of the Mi’kmaq in the region. He explained different assets of weapons and tools and their evolution. We also got to see some amazing historical and recent artwork from quillwork, to beadwork to basket weaving. One of the most popular features of the centre is a 40-foot Glooscap statue. Many Nova Scotians will be quite familiar with the statue as it’s perched directly over one of the busiest highways in the province.
Drive to Red Bank Lodge
We made our way to the province of New Brunswick to an area called Red Bank (near to Miramichi and directly on the Miramichi River) to stay at Red Bank Lodge. The lodge is a gorgeous cedar log building with comfortable rooms and beautiful views over the river.
Day 4 – New Brunswick
We started our last day at Metepenagiag Heritage Park which is just adjacent to Red Bank Lodge. We were met by General Manager and guide Patricia Dunnett who gave us a tour through the exhibits. One incredibly interesting thing about Metepenagiag is the hundreds of nearby archeology sites, with two of the most important being the Oxbow and Augustine sites. Therefore one of the big focuses of the park is the historical and archaeological aspects of these two sites. They even have an on-site archeological technician to help with sorting and dating the items excavated at the sites. Our visit ended with one of the most memorable experiences from our four-day tour.
We got to enjoy/make some Mi’kmaq food. When we arrived they had a fire going and were already cooking moose meat meatballs, fiddleheads (a wild green), and tea. While those were cooking we made our own bread called Lu’sknikn, a first for both of us. We got to do the whole process ourselves from mixing the ingredients and adding water to the mixture, to eventually burying it in the hot sand to cook. You leave it there for about 25 minutes, watching the mound rise as the bread cooks. This was our first time ever making bread and the experience was so unique and fun. Once the bread was ready we dug it out of the sand, brushed it off and enjoyed our meal. The bread was absolutely delicious, who knew cooking food directly in the sand would be so incredible! It was also the first time for both of us trying moose meat and we were happily impressed.
It’s about a 1.5-hour drive between the two experiences, so be sure to schedule yourself plenty of time if you do the same itinerary as we did. This experience starts with a full smudging ceremony within a teepee. Afterwards, guides took us on a heritage path tour through a trail where we learned more about traditions, medicines and the Mi’kmaq way of life. We got to see the beginnings of a traditional longhouse (to be completed at a later date), as well as a sweat lodge.
The interpreters went into great depth and detail about the sweat lodge, its historical significance and how it’s used today. The last part of the tour involves a sitdown Q&A where participants are encouraged to ask anything. This part of the tour really allows the interpreters and participants to get to know one another, and it’s very beneficial to not only ask any remaining questions about the tour but also about Mi’kmaq way of life.