Micmac Indians

The Micmac Indians were among the first native North Americans encountered by European explorers to the New World. Their initial contact with Europeans in the early years of the 16th century gradually changed their way of life forever. The chief basis for early Micmac relations with Europeans was trade. During the second half of the 16th century, the fur trade appears to have changed from a subsidiary activity of fishermen to the major occupation of many European sailors. The fur trade had an immediate, and ultimately negative, impact on the Micmacs. The demand for furs dramatically expanded the traditional fur hunting season and thus altered the intricate seasonal cycles of the Micmacs. By reducing the annual periods traditionally spent along the seashore, the Micmacs increased their dependence on European trade goods and food, and therefore were left more susceptible to sudden famines. This also caused a radical wild game depletion in their usual hunting areas and ultimately became a motivating factor in acts of warfare among the tribes in the region.

In the latter half of the 17th century, under pressure from the French, the Micmacs formed a loose alliance with other members of the Algonquian tribes, which became known as the Wabanaki Confederacy. The Wabanaki Confederacy tribes were involved in military actions throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries, generally on behalf of the French against the English. The wars between the Wabanaki Confederacy and Iroquois League had come to an end by 1700. In 1749, the "Great Council Fire" was created, in which the Iroquois League and the Wabanaki Confederacy signed a peace treaty at Caughnawaga.

After their French allies were defeated by the English, some Micmac sagamores signed the Treaty of Halifax (1752). In return for offering peace to the English troops who now occupied parts of Micmac country, the Micmacs were promised that the English King would protect and defend Micmac lands – except for small areas which were already settled by the English. The treaty reserved for Micmacs the rights of free trade and unrestricted hunting and fishing, but was not respected by the British government in later years. Treaties negotiated with the American government in the late-18th century raised similar expectations and were similarly ignored.

The boundary line created by the Treaty of Paris of 1873 ran through the middle of Wabanaki Confederacy lands. It created an artificial distinction between those Indians then living in Canada and those in Maine, which had clear ramifications in terms of the way in which the Canadian and American governments chose to treat the Native Americans under their jurisdiction.
From the early 19th century on, Micmacs made splint baskets for local farms, regional markets, and export. The 20th century rise of the potato as a booming cash-crop in Maine especially created a large demand for the sturdy baskets, which were used to harvest potatoes. With the growth of the lumber and potato farming industries in Northern Maine, in particular following the introduction of railroads in the last decades of the 19th century, Micmacs were also able to find jobs as lumberjacks, river-drivers, seasonal farm workers, and as odd-job laborers working on roads, in factories, etc. Consequently, many Micmac families settled down in towns in Aroostook County.

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