We have always had a sacred relationship with natural parts of our territory: “maqamigl” (meaning “lands”), “sipu’l” (meaning “rivers”), “ni’pugt” (meaning “forest”), “usju’sn” (meaning “air”) and “musigisg” (meaning “sky”).
This relationship forms a special bond between us and our ancestral territory because the parts of nature that are found here deserve our stewardship. We are caretakers of our land and we are responsible to the next generations.
Mawiomi (meaning “gathering”) is the one of the most important social and governance systems that we Mi’gmaq have. It is based on the idea of “ta’n teliangweiatulti’gw” (meaning “how we look after one another”).
This section explores the ways that Mi’gmaq have used the mawiomi to reach decisions on behalf of all members of their communities.
We will also look at the relationship between the Mi’gmaq and mawiomi in terms of both traditional and modern governance.
We consider the term “one other” to include not only humans but also animals, plants and all other living things, in other words, the whole natural environment where we live. In this way, we acknowledge that we are all part of “ugs’tqamu” (meaning “all of Creation”).
When Mi’gmaq gather in mawiomi, they base their discussions and deliberations on the principle of ta’n teliangweiatulti’gw, so that the decisions they reach will be for the benefit of all members of the community, collectively.
MAWIOMI – GATHERING
Our Elders tell us that, in the past, our extended families would meet regularly at different places throughout our territory. During this kind of meeting, known in Mi’gmaq as a mawiomi (meaning “gathering”), our ancestors talked about the land, resources, the needs of our people and their families, and the best ways to “look after one another.” These gatherings strengthened our family relations and were central to our way of life.
At these gatherings, for example, our ancestors discussed how to share hunting and fishing areas, and how best to use the resources from the land and waters. They considered their needs for food, shelter, and sources of medicinal ingredients. They discussed trade between communities. They exchanged knowledge about gathering sites, places to harvest foods and materials for their homes. They discussed the best canoe routes to navigate the waterways and the best pathways for travel. They shared ways to make things such as canoes, baskets, toboggans, medicines, clothing, and many other technologies. And, at these gatherings, our ancestors sang, told stories, and came together as a people through ceremony.
The tradition of mawiomi has always existed across the seven traditional districts of “Mi’gma’gi” (meaning “national territory of the Mi’gmaq”), including the seventh district, Gespe’gewa’gi.
Today, even though many of the tools we used have changed, what remains constant is the importance of the land, our distinct culture, and the way we organize ourselves for our collective well-being as Mi’gmaq.
Mawiomi is at the heart of Mi’gmaq society. It is the way we collectively decide how to best live in our territory. It helps us maintain connections between our families and honour all parts of Creation.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the main governing body in Mi’gma’gi was the Sante Mawiomi (Grand Council). The Sante Mawiomi met regularly to discuss matters that affected all of Mi’gma’gi, for example, treaties with other nations or the decision to enter into war. The Sante Mawiomi helped maintain balance and harmony within Mi’gma’gi.
- The Sante Mawiomi was comprised of a Gji’Geptin (Grand Captain) a Gji’Saqamaw (Grand Chief), as well as a Putus (Treaty Knowledge Holder).
- At the district level, extended families established a Saqamawuti (District Council). The Saqamawuit was comprised of Saqamawg (Chiefs), Gepting (Captains), Gisi’gummajuinu’g (Elders) and Saya (heads of families).
We organized ourselves around the seven districts of Mi’gma’gi. The Mi’gmaq were an organized society with distinct political, legal, and spiritual traditions. We had our language and we occupied our territory. Our systems of governance were established long before the arrival of settlers.
MI’GMAQ GOVERNING PRINCIPLES
With the arrival of newcomers, our ways of governing changed. Today, we are facing many challenges to our ways and how we want to govern within our territory.
Our Elders remind us that, what has sustained us over the thousands of years, is our knowledge, our values, and our beliefs. There are certain principles that are foundational to our way of governing.
Principles that we value include:
- Gepmite’taqan - Respect.
- Ta’n telmi’watmg goqwei - Giving Thanks; how to be appreciative for things.
- Ta’n telmi’waltultimg - Honour; and how we are grateful for each other
- Ta’n telwo’gmawtultimg - We are all related
- Ta’n telitpi’taqati’gw - Sharing; and how we distribute things
- Ta’n telmawilsutaqati’gw - Responsibility; and how we judge or decide together
- Ta’n telgegnu’mimajultimg - Protocols and Ceremonies; and how to live a good and proper life.
EXAMPLES OF MODERN MAWIOMI
Here are some examples of how the Mi’gmaq have used mawiomi in modern times:
- The creation in 2000 of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi (MM), made up of three communities from the seventh Mi’gma’gi district, Gespe’gewa’gi. These communities are Gespeg, Listugui, and Gesgapegiag. Many deliberations ~ many mawiomi’l (meaning “more than one mawiomi”) ~ took place at the community level. During these times, many ideas were shared from Elders and other stakeholders about what the MM should be and should do. The chiefs of the three communities brought all these ideas together in order to prepare and sign the Political Accord of 2000 which created the MM to be one voice for the three communities within Gespe’gewa’gi. Without the mawiomi tradition of agreement through peace, friendship and mutual respect, this federation would have been impossible.
- The 2009 declaration of Mi’gmaq as the official language of Gespe’gewa’gi. After significant mawiomi discussions, this document was approved by the leadership of the MM in June 2009. It represents group decision-making that honours our language as a way of viewing the world and a reflection of all facets of our traditional life,
- The preparation of the Mi’gmaq portions of the Niganita’suatas’gl Ilsutaqann (N.I.) Agreement). The title means “the thinking before the decision.” This important Gespe’gewa’gi claims process document has been agreed to by the MM and the Governments of Canada and Québec. The N.I. is discussed in detail elsewhere on our site. The N.I. was approved in September 2005 by the MM after they had held mawiomi about the issues. Then it was commemorated by all the three of the parties to the claims negotiations in August 2009.
In these examples, we see the idea of leaders of our communities coming together in mawiomi, for collective discussions, so that the views of their community members would appear in the final agreements.
HOW THE SPIRIT OF MAWIOMI HELPS US WITH OUR CLAIM
The mawiomi is based on mutual respect that allows sharing of ideas among members of a community in order to solve problems and meet needs. The document known as “Nm’tginen” (meaning “statement of claim”), discussed elsewhere on this site, is the collective thinking of many of our people meeting in many mawiomi’l over several years.
As we move forward with the clams process and negotiations, we will ensure that the interests of our people, as expressed during mawiomi, are protected and achieved within the Mi’gmaq tradition of peace and harmony with others.
The mawiomi has existed for centuries in Mi’gmaq culture. As a social and governmental system, it has helped us reach decisions fairly and peacefully in the past and it will continue to do so in the future, especially as we work toward resolving our claim to our traditional territory.
Read the entire text of the 2000 Political Accord.
Read the entire text of our statement of claim document, the Nm’tginen, in your choice of Mi’gmaq, English or French.
Read the entire text of the Niganita’suatas’gl Ilsutaqann (N.I.) Agreement).
Read the entire text, in your choice of Mi’gmaq or English, of the 2008 Declaration of Mi’gmaq as the official language of the Gewpe’gewa’gi Mi’gmaq people.
Look at our Mi’gmaq language glossary.