Traditional place name signs tell the story of Mi’kmaq across Epekwitk

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by ahnationtalk on June 4, 202430 Views

June 4, 2024

Elder Judy Clark is still learning to read and write in Mi’kmaw as a tribute to her ancestors.

The highly respected Mi’kmaw Elder and member of the Abegweit First Nation remembers growing up on Lennox Island in the 1960s when children were forced to learn English at Indian Day Schools. Some even faced punishment for speaking their Indigenous language.

“I was brought up in a home where Mi’kmaw was our first language, and we used it fluently,” said Elder Clark. “But we were told that we had to speak English, so Dad taught us how to speak English, and I think that was because he was trying to protect us and to have it so that we didn’t go to residential school.”

Mi’kmaw language, culture and traditions were passed down through generations of storytelling. Time is passing and Elder Clark is immersing herself in Mi’kmaw language to share important history lessons with her community before the information is lost forever.

“From the stories my Mom told us, she always said ‘Never forget who you are’ especially for me as an Indigenous woman,” said Elder Clark. “I’m L’nu, which means the people. Ni’n na L’nu means I am one of the people. Never forget where you came from and never forget your ancestors.”

L’nuey, the Mi’kmaw rights initiative under the authority of the two First Nations on PEI, is working hard to revitalize and preserve the Mi’kmaw language, a common goal for Indigenous communities around the world. After learning about efforts in New Zealand to highlight the Maori language in that country by recognizing traditional place names, L’nuey wanted to shed light on the Mi’kmaw names of Epekwitk, which is also known as Prince Edward Island.

“It really highlights the Mi’kmaw culture and history and showcases that these places existed for thousands of years,” said Jenene Wooldridge, executive director of L’nuey. “The Mi’kmaw language is very descriptive, and it tells a story about how the Mi’kmaq used the land in their lifestyle of everyday. It’s very important to bring that forward to share with all Islanders because it’s our shared history on PEI.”

L’nuey reached out to the Government of Prince Edward Island in May 2020 and soon after, efforts were underway to develop new highway signs to recognize communities and raise awareness of the Mi’kmaw people and language among all Islanders and visitors.

“The Province is committed to working towards reconciliation and this partnership with L’nuey is a great opportunity to recognize the importance of the Mi’kmaw culture, history and language on our Island,” said Hon. Dennis King, Premier of Prince Edward Island. “We will continue working with L’nuey to help all Islanders learn more about PEI’s history.”

Highway signs in PEI are made at the provincial sign shop not far from Tignish River or Mta’qanejk, meaning ‘paddle place.’

The first signs made under this initiative were unveiled during Indigenous Awareness Week in 2020. Since then, more than 40 signs have been added across the province, including new ones this year in Portage Lake or Meski’k pu’ta’sk, meaning ‘large cavity’, and Rocky Point or Kuntal Kwesawe’kl, meaning ‘rocky point.’

“We have had an extremely supportive reaction to the traditional place name signs,” Wooldridge says. “Municipalities have reached out to us saying that they want them installed in their areas. It’s really made me realize that Islanders are interested in reconciliation and doing what they can to support the Mi’kmaq across the Island.”

Kiara LaBobe, a young Mi’kmaw woman from Lennox Island, says traditional place names offer a glimpse into the past. Her daughter is learning the language in daycare.

“It’s very important to teach children, grandchildren and the next seven generations the language, the culture and the heritage,” said LaBobe. “For generations, having connection to the land, water and earth has always been very significant for Indigenous people with the natural resources the Creator provided us. I’ve always had that connection because to me, I find the land teaches us guidance and wisdom as we move forward in life.”

A lot has changed since Elder Judy Clark attended the former Lennox Island Day School. She is now dedicated to learning and sharing the language passed down by her parents, grandparents and Mi’kmaw Elders she remembers from her childhood.

“It’s safe now to share our stories. It’s safe now to educate people because it’s in the school system. It’s in the curriculum,” Elder Clark says. “I hope for the future, and I see things have changed, even in the last 25 years. I hope it continues because it takes all three levels of government … to work together and to support who we are and give us the opportunity to be Indigenous, to be Mi’kmaq.”

Islanders are encouraged to learn more about the significance of Epekwitk Mi’kmaw Place Names by visiting the interactive map (link is external) developed by L’nuey.

For more information and other resources about PEI Mi’kmaq, visit L’NUEY (link is external).

Media contacts:
Nicole Yeba
Executive Council Office (link sends e-mail)

Stacey Miller
Transportation and Infrastructure (link sends e-mail)

Sean Doke
L’nuey (link sends e-mail)


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