Stand at the start of the trail at the sign post.
You are headed off on a forest journey based on a Mi’kmaw Legend about the importance of learning from Elders and respecting all the creatures of these lands. You will learn about some traditional Mi’kmaw activities along the way. Oral traditions are very important for the Mi’kmaq and offer much wisdom for others as well. They have been passed down over many generations and have lessons that are very valuable for us as we live our lives today.
In a circle, start by each of you sharing a favourite story and what it teaches us.
Do You Know?
Glooscap First Nation
Glooscap First Nation is located in Sipekne’batik (meaning ‘land of the wild turnip’) or Shubenacadie, one of the 7 districts that make up Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq. The Peace and Friendship Treaties with the British from 1725-1761 recognized Mi’kmaw rights to their lands but in the subsequent years the colonial government removed them to small, designated reserves, opening up more lands for white settlement. Although Mi’kmaq had lived in the local area for thousands of years, Glooscap First Nation was established in the colonial context in the early 1800’s when approximately 450 acres was purchased by the Micmac Missionary Society, and Mi’kmaq were encouraged to make a living at the nearby marketplace. In 1907, this land was transferred to his Majesty the King to be used as an ‘Indian Reserve,’ and was considered a part of the Annapolis Valley Band. Later, Rita Smith the first Chief of Glooscap First Nation, persuaded the government that the reserve should be independent as it was 30 km from the Annapolis Valley Reserve and not receiving enough services. In 1984, the two communities separated and Glooscap First Nation, which was known as Horton Reserve at the time, became the 13th Mi’kmaw Band in Nova Scotia. The name shifted to Glooscap in 2001.
Walk down the trail 75 metres until you encounter stepping stones on the path.
These stepping stones take you into the story world of Nukumi and Kluscap. Move slowly and carefully, only step on the stones, and count the number of stones you step on until you get to the end of the stepping stones.
Once you have crossed all of the stones, look back to a particularly large and interesting stone near the end and circle around it. Sit down if it is comfortable.
Listen to the start of the Nukumi and Fire Legend,34 this stone represents the stone in the story…
“One cold, autumn morning in a low valley, a great, grey stone sat covered with dew. The rock was very old and had sat there for many, many moons. It had seen the passing of many animals and many seasons, but this day as Niskam (Grandfather Sun) heated the rock and the dew rose as a mist from it, Niskam decided to give life to this rock. So as the rock grew hotter and the steam from the dew hovered over it, this one old rock was given the body of an old, old woman. This was Nukumi.
Kluskap [cultural hero of the Mi’kmaq) had been watching the birds and the plants and the animals and learning all he could. Now there came a day as he traveled that he wandered into this valley and there he met Nukumi. As Kluskap talked to Nukumi, he realized how much wisdom she had and he wanted to learn all that he could from her. Nukumi explained that she would be happy to be his grandmother and share her wisdom, but as an old woman, meat was necessary for her. She could not live only on plants and berries.“
So Kluscap needs to find meat and build a fire to feed Nukumi, and this is your mission— to set up a fire and find meat for the Grandmother Nukumi, then you will learn the end of the story.
Let’s start with gathering the materials for a fire. Later we will seek an animal for meat.
Starting fire is a challenge, remember there were no matches in ancient times.
You need to gather five types of things for this fire— bark, tinder, small sticks, middle sticks and big sticks. These things are offered to you by Creator and they must be taken with respect in places where they are plentiful. At various stops you will learn a little bit about some of the traditional Mi’kmaw ways of being in the forest.
Building a Fire
It is typically taken for granted that a match or lighter is needed to start a fire. But at one time these did not exist and yet fires were regularly started. One technique Mi’kmaq used historically was to strike pyrite and quartz rocks together to generate a spark.
Starting a fire without matches is a lost art today but is quite possible if one has the skill. One standard set of techniques used since ancient times is to use friction to generate an ember by rubbing dry pieces of carefully crafted wood together, using either a hand drill or a bow drill. Of course dry wood is difficult to find much of the time. Here are instructions on generating fire from friction with wood.
Cross the wooden bridge ahead and go another 75 m up the hill, stop 5 m past a pile of rocks on the right side of the trail.
To start a fire, you need dry materials. One way to tell is through smell. You can smell the difference between dry wood and wet wood. Smell is an important sense to develop for anyone who lives in the forest to help them survive. It can be a way to find plants and track animals. Let’s work on this skill and here are a couple of tools to help.4
- Find a dry stick and a wet stick.
- Take out your smell catcher sponge and put some clean water on it.
- Squeeze a bit of water on your nose to wet it.
- Scratch each stick with your fingernail and smell.
Do you notice a difference between the sticks? The water helps capture smells, that’s why dogs and coyotes have wet noses— it helps them smell.
- Now look around nearby for a patch of small plants (5 cm high), each with small (1-2 cm), leathery, oval, shiny green leaves which spread out from a woody stem (see box below).
- Take one leaf and say thank you to the plant for giving its leaf to you so you can learn.
- Dab the water on your nose, tear the leaf in half, scratch it and sniff it.
It smell’s like peppermint if you have the right leaf. This is one traditional way of identifying plants.
Do You Know?
Teaberry or Wintergreen
These are small evergreen plants about 10 cm in height. They have leathery, glossy and oval leaves, often three to five, which splay from the upper part of the short woody stem. The young leaves are a light green and then darken as the summer progresses. They produce small red berries that stay into the winter. Leaves and berries have a strong wintergreen smell and taste when the leaves are torn. They make a good tea and Mi’kmaq traditionally use it as a blood thinner and heart attack prevention and treatment.
Now try smelling lots of other things: a leaf, needles, bark, soil, logs, plants, etc.
- Put potion on your sponge and dab it on your nose.
- Scratch the surface of an object with your fingernail.
- Sniff deeply to help the potion bring the smell to you.
- Scratch and sniff at least five neat smells.
- Share your favourite smell with someone else.
Finish off by finding 8 small sticks (no thicker or longer than a pencil). Say thank you to the forest for letting you use them. Put them in your sack for collecting the materials to build the fire for Nukumi.
See if you can find three more neat smells as you move to the next stop.
The Honourable Harvest
Respect for all elements of creation is central for the Mi’kmaq and many other Indigenous groups. This respect is reflected in how things are harvested and used by people. Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous writer, defines these guidelines for an ‘honourable harvest’ in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. Please use them on this trail and consider applying them to whatever you harvest and buy…
- Know the ways of the ones who take care of you so you may take care of them.
- Introduce yourself, be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
- Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
- Never take the first. Never take the last.
- Take only what you need.
- Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
- Give thanks for what you have been given.
- Give a gift in reciprocity for what you have been given.
- Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will live forever.
Walk 100 m until you see a coloured sign on your left entitled “Seasonal Photo Location.”
Everything changes each season. This sign suggests you take a photo and upload it to create a photo gallery of this place across the year. Try it and upload it to our trail gallery when you are finished this trail. Look at other photos of this place at differing times to see how much it changes. Look for what has recently changed as you continue up the trail.
Continue 30 m up the trail until you see numerous large, fallen poplar trees to your left which create a jungle of tree trunks and branches.
This is a fallen tree jungle created by a hurricane and a climate that is changing. It’s a great spot for collecting a few larger sticks for the fire.
Climb around and explore all the neat branches and perches. On cooler days, Mi’kmaq needed warm and comfortable spots to rest on their travels as well as places to watch for creatures and other things happening around them. Observation is another important survival skill in the forest.
Find a neat, comfortable and sheltered spot among the fallen trees and snuggle into it with your Adventure Journal in hand.
Sit quietly and watch and listen for all of the sounds and movements around you. Draw a picture of something you see in your Adventure Journal.
Once you are done, collect three larger sticks about 30 cm long and a bit thinner than a ping pong ball. Say thank you for taking them and put them in your fire building sack.
Walk silently to the next spot and see how many different bird calls you can hear.
The fallen trees in this area are largely poplar and they were felled by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. Poplar are a fast-growing pioneer species with shallow roots which fill in open areas. They are particularly susceptible to high winds. Large numbers of poplars, but little else, were brought down across Nova Scotia in the hurricane, which are increasing in severity due to climate change. A mature Acadian forest would not have many poplar, but this one has been cut over the years with the poplar growing up afterwards. Human activities have rapidly accelerated the natural processes of change and many traditional Acadian forest species are struggling or unable to adapt. A key ecological process for all species is…
Walk 70 m until you come upon a giant oak tree on the right side of the trail.
At different times of the year, Mi’kmaq ate different things, wore different things and lived different places. It is much harder to start a fire in some seasons while in others there is danger that a cooking fire will start a forest fire. Let’s get creative and imagine what this spot looks like in different seasons without using a camera. Let’s use all the things that are here now…
- Collect 16 dead sticks about the size of a thick marker and about 40 cm long.
- Say thank you for being able to use them.
- Arrange them on a clear spot of ground into four rectangular frames.
- Within the frames, one for each season, arrange natural things to show what would be here in that season (carefully select your locations for your spring and summer frames to find green plants without hurting them)
- Make a picture for each season with the materials.
- Take a photo of your frames and share what it would be like here in the winter.
Are there things here now left from each season… Yup!
Before you move on, take four mid-sized sticks from the frame and break them in half to create 8 sticks about 20 cm long. Add them to the sack for the fire building. Scatter the rest of your materials across the forest floor so there is no trace of your pictures.
On your way to the next stop you will come across another Seasonal Photo Location. Try it!
Adapting to the Seasons
Traditionally, Mi’kmaw lifestyles changed across the seasons28 as they adapted to their natural surroundings. Much of the year they lived on the coast where food was plentiful—fish, birds, and eggs. In the fall, they caught smelt, herring, and eels. They moved up the rivers in the winter to more protected forest areas to escape the harsh coastal conditions, though they still returned down to the sea ice to hunt seal and walrus. There is much archeological evidence of Mi’kmaw habitation in the local area dating back several thousand years, particularly at Melanson, about 10 km from here. The Gaspereau River watershed was rich in fish— gaspereau, salmon, trout, eels, etc.
Walk 125 m until you see the Seasonal Photo Location sign on the right. After taking the photo if you choose, continue another 50 m until you see a tall (about 13 m), broken off tree trunk on the left about 5 m off the trail. Just past it, on the left side of the trail, find three different small needle trees, each with a different type of needle.
You better know one forest plant from the other if you are harvesting them. Make a mistake and you could get sick. Let’s see if you can learn the difference between three important forest trees using only your sense of touch.
- Pair up, with one partner wearing a vision blocker.
- The ‘seeing’ partner carefully leads the ‘feeler’ person to a spot on the left within reach of three different looking needle branches.
- Guide your partner’s hand in touching each different kind of branch.
- Make sure your partner feels the branches carefully so as to remember each one by feel.
- The ‘feeler’ person makes up a good name for each tree’s feel.
- Now spin the feeler person around and bring them to a new small tree of each type and see if they can recognize and name it.
- Look about for a small spruce tree and bring them to it (see box below to help identify one).
- Have them to explore it carefully with their hands. Then move them away from it, spin them around, and have them take their vision blocker off and try to find the spruce with their eyes.
Remember what the spruce feels like as you will be collecting needles from one later for tea. See how many large spruce trees you can spot as you walk to the next stop
Distinguishing Needle Trees
Here is how to distinguish these needle trees:
Eastern White Pine: Grows best in moist, well drained soils. Has 5 long needles in a bunch that are soft and blue-green. Birds, particularly eagles, like to nest in these trees.
Red Spruce: Grows straight and tall, up to 70 feet. Has distinct yellow green needles, and a light orange, slightly hairy twig. The needles come out from all sides of the twig. Various birds and small mammals love to eat the seeds.
Balsam Fir: This tree has a pyramid shape with flat needles (about 2 cm long) that are dark green above with two white lines below. The needles come out from two sides of the stem. The shoots coming off a branch do so symmetrically at the same spot.
Walk 80 m to a birch tree on the right edge of the trail with two vertical cuts on the trunk. Each cut is less than a half metre long.
Traditionally, Mi’kmaq met all their needs from the offerings of nature, so they used things wisely and took only as much as the forests and waters could sustain. Birch bark was valuable for so many things, from building fires to canoes, as drawing material and as covering for wikuoms (wigwams). The cut marks on this birch tree to the right show that someone started to carefully harvest the bark from it by not going too deep to avoid hurting the tree. You can see that the inner bark is hardening.
Let’s see what you can make with bark in a small way.
- Find some bark on the ground (do not take it off the tree because this is reserved for actual harvesting).
- Say thank you to the forest for being able to use the materials.
- Combine the bark with other materials such as dried grass, stems, twigs or leaves to create either a small shelter or canoe shape for little people.
- Try using a stick or something sharp to poke holes in the bark and use plant stems or dried grass to sew things together.
- Share what you have made with others.
At the end, spread the materials back around the forest except for the some of the birch bark. Put a couple small pieces in your fire building sack.
See how many birch trees are around as you move to the next stop.
Birchbark is special because it is strong, waterproof and does not rot.28 Summer is the best time to harvest it because the sap running in the tree helps the bark separate from the trunk more easily relative to the colder temperatures of winter. To harvest it, a vertical line is cut straight. Cutting horizontal all the way around the tree could damage or even kill the tree. Harvesters cut in one big sheet, 1 to 2 metres long and gently work the outer bark off the tree with their hands. If the initial cut is too deep and the inner bark gets cut, the tree could die because it is left unprotected. If carefully harvested, the tree’s inner bark will become coarser and act as the new outer bark for protection. This could take 10 years or more. For canoes, larger sheets the length of the tree are cut. Birch bark was used for many items— wigwams and other shelters, canoes, and tools. Todd Labrador from Acadia First Nation is a Mi’kmaw artist who still builds traditional Mi’kmaw canoes today and shares his knowledge with others.
Walk 75 m until you see a maple tree just to the left of the trail with 6 thin trunks that has a big base with many holes in it. You will note many large ferns in this area.
The Wiklatmu’j (sounds like wih-guh-lah-tuh-mooch) are the ‘little people” who live in the forest with the Mi’kmaq. They are mostly known as tricksters. They are less than a metre tall and are very clever and quick on their feet. Stories of the Wiklatmu’j teach children to not disobey or be disrespectful. Be kepmite’tagn! (respectful).
They sound like birds when they speak with each other. Maybe you hear some now?
Let’s crawl into and explore their world beneath the ferns with sharp eyes and a magnifying lens, if you have one…
- Look around for small holes where you think Wiklatmu’j might live. Look closely into these holes. What is inside?
- Crawl under a fern and look through it up into the sky. Do you see any brown spots on the fern fronds?
- Uncover and dig into the soil for the small insect friends of the Wiklatmu’j. Look at them up close.
- Explore the moss around the base of trees for small, beautiful worlds.
Before you move on, gather the last ingredient for the fire. It is tinder, the very smallest dry materials that need to catch once you light the birch bark. This gets from the quick burn of the bark to the small sticks. Here are some things to look for:
- The tiniest dead twigs, so small you can hardly see them. Collect them from a dry spot on the ground
- The tiniest dry and dead twigs still hanging on dead branches of needle trees
- Small dead pine twigs and needles
- Tiny dried plant stalks
Collect a large handful of these things and put them in the fire building sack.
Walk 75 m until you spot a patch of low spruce about 2 m wide and a half metre high, just off the trail and up to the right. It is just past a tree on the right with large woodpecker holes in it.
Now you have gathered all of the materials for the fire, but what is to be the meat? Let’s listen to the next part of the story…34
“Kluskap was so happy to have a grandmother that he called to Marten swimming in the river. He asked Marten if he would give his life so that Kluskap’s grandmother could live. All of the animals were friends to Kluskap, and Marten said he would do this for his friend. Now Kluskap told Marten that for this sacrifice he would make Marten his brother. So Nukumi snapped Marten’s neck and placed him on the ground but Kluskap felt so bad that he called to Kisúlkw (Creator) to return Marten to life.
Now Nukumi used her wisdom to speak with Kisúlkw and Kluskap, and Marten was brought back to life so he could return to his river. But where he lay on the ground was the body of another marten. Nukumi told Kluskap that from this point the animals would be brother and friend to Kluskap. They would be there willing to provide food and clothing, shelter and tools, but always they must be treated with the respect given a brother and friend, because they would only be there to provide what is necessary for life. Marten will always be the first of Kluskap’s friends.”
Chat and ask questions about the story passage:
- What do you think of what Marten did?
- How do animals provide us with food and clothing?
- How could we do better at always treating animals with respect?
Martens are small and fierce animals, about the size of a small cat, but they are thinner with shorter legs and a bushy tail. They are very quick and quiet and live alone in old and mature forests. They eat small creatures like mice, chipmunks and squirrels. Let’s practice being a marten and try to catch something to eat.
- Find a tree as the centre of the game.
- One person is the squirrel and everyone else are martens.
- The squirrel touches the tree, closes their eyes and counts to 30 to give the martens a chance to hide nearby.
- Martens should hide close to the tree because the closest marten who is not spotted is ultimately the winner.
- After the time is up, the squirrel searches with its keen eyes to find the martens hiding close by. While searching, the squirrel must stay in the same spot and touch the tree.
- If the squirrel spots a marten, they call out their name or what it is wearing and it is out until the next round (the marten missed catching the squirrel because they were spotted).
- Once the squirrel cannot find any more hidden martens, the squirrel closes its eyes again for a count of 30 and the martens sneak closer.
- The squirrel again looks to spot the hidden martens.
- The marten who is closest to the squirrel at the end of the 2nd round gets the squirrel.
- Repeat the game as you choose with the winning marten becoming the squirrel.
When the game is over, search on the ground for a piece of bark or an old leaf that looks a bit like the shape of a marten. Add it to your sack to bring to the fire.
The Marten (Apistanéwj, pronounced ah-bist-ah-nayo-ch) plays an important role in Mi’kmaw oral traditions as the brother of Kluscap. Non-human animals are seen as siblings and persons and there is a reciprocity in animal–human relationships in terms of respect and honor. Martens are also harbingers of forest health as they live in mature and old growth forests, which are endangered in Nova Scotia today due to current forestry practices. It is not surprising that the Marten is a designated species at risk in Nova Scotia. Check out a wonderful video and accompanying book for young people entitled American Marten Apistane’wj & The First Pine Trees, which describes how pine trees came to be and teaches lessons about forest health.
Stay at the same spot near the patch of spruce.
Grandmother Nukumi asked Kluscap to provide her with meat to nourish her, but she would need something to drink as well. How about gathering things to make tea?
The Mi’kmaw used many plants to make tea, both to give them warm and good tasting drinks, and to provide medicine as many plants are good for treating illnesses and injuries.
Lets collect the needles for making spruce tea and you can actually make the tea at home using the recipe in the box below. Collect a half cup of spruce needles.
Spruce Tea &
Here is the recipe for spruce tea to make at home (makes 4 cups):
- 5 tablespoons of Spruce needles
- 4 cups of water to boil
- Pour boiled water over chopped needles
- Allow to steep for 10-15 mins
Spruce needles make one good and common tea. They are used to treat stiff and sore joints, sore throats and arthritis. Spruce tea is also used to clean cuts and wounds.
Traditionally Mi’kmaq depended on local natural materials for all the things they needed to survive, including for healing and medicines. Mi’kmaw perspectives of health and wellness are very different from standard medicine and do not fit into Western categories. But even for mainstream allopathic medicine, many medicines are derived from plants. For example, aspirin, which is salicylic acid, originally came from willow bark. Much work is now available on the traditional Mi’kmaw uses of native plants for medicines. An excellent resource is Mi’kmaq Medicines: Remedies and Recollections by Laurie Lacey. It starts with the gathering and preparation of various plants and follows through to their traditional uses.
Walk 75 m until you see the underneath of a large uprooted tree with grass growing on it (the Grass Monster). It is just off the right edge of the trail.
Did you notice the change?… You have passed from the older forest into the Kingdom of Grass, the last stop before you reach the place where you will set up the fire. The grass monster rules this part of the forest. Can you make out the monster’s face in the uprooted tree?
The monster values the beauty in nature and asks that you create some pictures using natural materials in your journal before you pass through the kingdom. Try it.
- Find a comfortable sitting spot and take out your Adventure Journal.
- Collect natural materials and colours nearby to make a drawing of the Wiklatmu’j or something else around you.
- Use things like soil, needles, twigs or plant juice to make the lines and colour
- Say thank you for what you use.
- At your spot think about your possible personal steps toward Reconciliation.
- When done, gather and share your work.
Here are personal steps you can take towards Reconciliation, which will be a long generational and societal journey.
- Look for and challenge stereotypes of Indigenous people in your own assumptions and actions, and in other places— media, storybooks, cartoons, toys and games, sports team names, etc. What are some examples you can think of? Why would they be damaging to First Nations? Discuss.
- Learn about treaties— “We are all treaty people.” When you return home, check out and discuss this video on treaties produced by Mi’kmaw communities and the Government of Nova Scotia.
- Ask your family members and learn about your own family history and lineage. Where did your ancestors come from, when, why? What did they do when they came to North America? How were they affected by the British King and empire, and the other European empires. How might have they interacted with Indigenous peoples? Find out what the Doctrine of Discovery was and the fact that it still influences Canadian law today.
Learn more about the Mi’kmaq and Mi’kmaw culture. L’Nuk, The People by Theresa Meuse is a wonderful resource on this topic for young people.
Walk 100 m to a flat spot on the trail just before it bends right and exits the forest at a sign.
Find a comfortable spot where everyone can sit in a circle to set up the fire.
- Take out your sack of fire building materials.
- Start by carefully placing the bark at the centre and then the tinder on top.
- Create a teepee over the bark and tinder starting with the small sticks, then add the middle-sized sticks and finally the large sticks over it all.
- Place the bark shape of Marten under the teepee.
Note: You are not to light the fire as you do not have permission to do so on Glooscap First Nation Land.
So only one more thing is needed to start the fire for Grandmother Nukumi. Listen to the story…34
“Kluskap asked Robin to fly to the place where the lightning had hit the ground to give Kluskap life, and bring the sparks that were there to him. Robin flew to the place but he had to use two dry sticks to carry the sparks because they were so hot. As he flew the wind caused the sticks to burn and robin’s breast turned red. Still he brought the fire to Kluskap.“
To fulfill Robin’s mission and ‘get’ a spark, exit the trail and find a a pile of pebbles just to the left of the sign. Choose one red coloured pebble to be the spark. Find two sticks and use them to carry the pebble back and place it in the teepee fire.
Fire in Mi’kmaw Culture
Fire is sacred to the Mi’kmaq and there are many sorts of fires with different names for different purposes. It can have very practical uses like cooking and important spiritual ones as part of ceremonies. Fire as embers was cared for and protected through the seasons, and carried along when groups moved from place to place. Women were responsible for protecting and caring for the embers which were often carried within a special fungus (‘Ji’koqs’ in Mi’kmaw) or in half rotten pine wood.
Now read the final part of the story…34
“Robin brought the fire to Kluskap and Nukumi put more wood on this fire and Niskam breathed on the sparks so that they burned the wood and created Great Spirit Fire. But all robins after this had red breasts and when two dry sticks are rubbed together they make fire. So the first meat was cooked over fire and Kluskap and his grandmother started their time together. Kluskap would help his grandmother survive and she would share her wisdom and knowledge with him.“
Chat about the story using the following questions.
- What lessons do you take away from the legend?
- Who are the elders in your life that you learn from?
- How do you show respect and help your Elders?
- How do you show respect for the creatures in nature?
- What more could you do?
When you are finished your discussion, please put the materials back in the sack and bring them home to use them for a fire there. You can use that fire to boil your spruce tea using the needles from the trail.
If you do not want to make the fire and tea at home, respectfully spread your fire materials around the area so as to leave no evidence of it.
Your final challenge is to find the mystery plaque and creature. Take a guess as to where it might be? Hint: It is on something nearby made by Mi’kmaq in this community. Make a rubbing of the mystery creature on the plaque in your Adventure Journal with the side of your pencil.
The plaque symbol is:
Retrace your path back to the parking lot. Another shorter but less attractive option is to walk out to the road, turn right, and walk back that way to the parking lot.
There are lots of other ways to explore Mi’kmaw culture. Here are a few good ones:
- Visit the Millbrook Culture and Heritage Centre near Truro, which offers tours, workshops and special events (advanced booking is required).
- Visit the interpretive trail at the M’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre in Debert (just past Truro). There are also excellent videos and resources on the Cultural Centre website.
- Visit or access the Nova Scotia Museum resources on Mi’kmaw culture.