© Lunenburg County Historical Society 2012
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The Mi’kmaq philosophy of non-interference implies respect and acceptance of the beliefs of others. An individual should never impose his/her beliefs on another. This philosophy is reflected in the interaction of Mi’kmaq people with their children, who are taught from an early age to make decisions that affect their lives.
Respect is given to all creation, to life in all its forms. The Mi’kmaq respect for animals includes taking responsibility for their continuation as a species. Respect is given to all ages equally, including children and the elderly. Respect is taken away only when an individual has acted in a way that offends another.
The Mi’kmaq believe in the natural course of justice. Although laws do not always result in justice being done, Mi’kmaq people have faith that a higher power will prevail.
Mi’kmaq people live by a belief in divine providence. They believe that everything in life happens for a reason. They do not question or challenge the ways of the creator.
The issue of death is dealt with at all levels in the Mi’kmaq community. Children are encouraged to ask questions about death. They are also encouraged to attend wakes and to offer prayers for the deceased person and for the family. Life and death are two events that go hand-in-hand in the native community.
When a person dies, signs of affection and respect are showered on the individual’s memory. Such praise is seldom given to a Mi’kmaq person in life. This expression of love and respect is not limited to the immediate family. Mi’kmaq people will travel hundreds of miles to attend the funeral of a friend or relative. One way to show this affection is by bidding for items at the auction or salite after someone’s death. The auction is held to give financial and emotional support to the family of the deceased member. It is quite common for Mi’kmaq people to bid for items at an auction even if it results in not having the money to pay for a ticket to return home.
Each person has a purpose for being on earth, and a responsibility to discover that purpose. Each person’s special talents, gifts, and wisdom gained through time should be shared with the community without that individual expecting any return.
If possible, Mi’kmaq people keep their disappointment in others to themselves. To express that disappointment may hurt the other person. This fits with the Mi’kmaq philosophy of noninterference in another’s life. When the time is right, the disappointment may be discussed. Criticism that is not accompanied by respect may be seen as rejection of the individual. It is better to choose the right words and the right time to correct someone. Sometimes showing by example is the best way.
Common sense must be used when making decisions or choices. Common sense is valued as much as formal education.
Mi’kmaq people believe that whatever a person gives to others will be returned. This includes kindness and respect. It is better to help a person who is going through a bad experience than to stand back and criticize or judge.
Silence should not be taken for consent. In some cases, an individual may want time to reflect on an issue under discussion. If time is not provided for this reflection, silence may result but should not be interpreted as agreement.
The state of friendship must include periods of silence to allow for reflection and for refreshing one’s thoughts.
Mi’kmaq people believe that no one should wait to be asked to do something. If there is a need for something to be done, an individual is expected to do it.
Show respect for guests by preparing a meal as soon as they arrive at your home. Prepare the tea, and if they are in need of it, they will accept it.
Men and women will usually gather together as separate groups at any social or community functions. Children are expected to amuse themselves. This custom is not unique to the Mi’kmaq people, and may be seen in operation in other cultural groups. However, with the Mi’kmaq it is usually unacceptable for a person to join a group of the opposite sex. Women will usually tease a male in order to discourage his stay in their group.
Children are present at all community gatherings. They are not discouraged from attending meetings, weddings, or wakes. They are expected to take their cue from the adults as to what behaviour is expected of them.
When an older man visits a home, it is customary for the woman to leave the men alone to visit. In many cases, she will prepare the customary welcome tea, then take her leave. When an older woman visits the wife in the home, the man will prepare the tea and take his leave. This is done as a sign of respect.
Children are encouraged not to interrupt an adult conversation. They are not discouraged from listening-in, but they are not allowed to ask questions. In this way children show respect to the adults. In turn, parents do not interrupt conversation between children. This shows respect for the children.
Children and youth are encouraged to show respect for adults at all times. They are also encouraged to express their opinions and share their feelings in matters that affect them personally. They are encouraged to address elderly women as “aunt”, and elderly men as “uncle”, but it is acceptable for them to refer to the parents of their peers by their first names, not Mrs. or Mr.
It is customary to serve seniors, elders and children at social gatherings. It shows respect to the seniors for their wisdom, and to the children as the future.
Mi’kmaq people believe that each person must take every opportunity to show appreciation for others. An example would be to take a small gift such as food on a visit to someone’s home, especially if it is a first visit.