Elmastukwek is the Mi’kmaw name for the outer part of the Bay of Islands. It means “going away from the river," which is how our ancestors described the region (i.e. going away from the Humber River and Corner Brook). The Bay of Islands is shaped like a horseshoe, with the South Shore, North Shore, and the city of Corner Brook and the Humber River in the middle. Our community is located on the southern side of the Bay of Islands, on the West Coast of Ktaqmkuk (i.e. the land across the water), or Newfoundland.
Our local band consists of Indigenous members living within the communities of Benoit's Cove, Halfway Point, John's Beach, Frenchman's Cove, York Harbour, and Lark Harbour, and members living outside these communities with bloodline connections. Each member's connection can be traced back to before the year 1949 when Newfoundland joined the country of Canada. The ancestries of our members include Mi’kmaq, Innu, Inuit, and European lines. Most are made up of either:
The descendants of the male settlers who came from Europe, settled in the Bay of Islands, and married the Indigenous women living here or in a nearby community,
The descendants of the Acadian-Mi'kmaq who moved to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia to escape the Acadian deportation, or
The descendants of the Indigenous people from other parts of Newfoundland, such as Bay St. George, Codroy Valley, Bonne Bay, the Northern Peninsula, southern Labrador, Central, Burgeo, Fortune Bay, Bay d'Espoir, or Placentia Bay, for example, following the lucrative cod fishery or to work at the thriving pulp and paper mill in Corner Brook.
Our members are both status and non-status. But most are registered Indians as of September 2011, when we finally received official recognition from the federal government after a five-decade-long struggle.
Where We Came From
Most Mi'kmaw people in Newfoundland can trace their roots back to Nova Scotia, especially Unama'ki (Cape Breton). The friendships built over hundreds of years between the Mi'kmaq and the French Acadians led to many marrying into Mi'kmaw communities. After the British won the Seven Years' War in the mid-1700s, Nova Scotia underwent a tragic upheaval, referred to as the "Expulsion of the Acadians." The Acadians were tracked down and deported from the Acadian regions of Nova Scotia. 10,000 Acadians were forced to leave their homes. The British sent thousands to their various colonies. Many died of diseases or starved. Others were sent to the Caribbean. Some went to France — a country that was new to them. They were Acadians, not French. Some went to Louisiana and New Orleans specifically. They have come to be known as “Cajuns.” Many of the Acadian-Mi'kmaq fled to Cape Breton to live among the other Mi'kmaw people and to Newfoundland, where they had been coming to fish for hundreds of years and where some Mi'kmaq already lived peacefully alongside other tribes.
Initially, those who came to Newfoundland at that time settled in areas such as Codroy Valley, St. George's, and St. Pierre. Some joined other Mi’kmaw already living in Bay d'Espoir and Plaisance (Placentia Bay). From there, the Mi'kmaq moved around to many other areas of Newfoundland, hunting and gathering the food available during each season.
The Mi'kmaq always lived in harmony with nature and other tribes, respecting others' claims to specific hunting territories. If some other community hunted or fished in that area, they moved on to another. After all, we lived in a land of plenty. The Mi'kmaq adopted the French Acadians as our brothers and sisters, showing them how to survive the harsh Canadian environment – where and how to plant the food they would need and when and how to hunt the animals they would need to survive. The Mi'kmaq did the same for the Irish who immigrated to Newfoundland during the tragic potato famine of Ireland. As a result, many Mi'kmaq on the south coast married into the Irish settler communities as well.
Elmastukwek First Nation belongs to the wider Mi'kmaw nation known as Mi'kma'ki, which stretches from all the Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, and down as far as Maine, USA. Science has proven that our people have been here for over 11,000 years; however, oral history passed on tells us that we have lived here since time immemorial.
Historically, members of the Mi’kmaq nation referred to ourselves as "L’nu" and other people as “nikmaq," meaning "my kin" or "my family," as a form of greeting. Settlers misunderstood and thought we were saying our tribe was called "Mi'kmaq." Over time, Mi'kmaq was reduced to "Mic Mac," which is why you still see that polluted version of our nation's name used.
L'nu hieroglyph found etched in caves in Nova Scotia
Our nation is governed by the Sante Mawiomi (Mi'kmaq Grand Council), which is made up of a Saqmaw (Grand Chief) and Keptinaq (Captains) that represent each district. Currently, Ktaqmkuk/Newfoundland has two Keptinaq that sit on the Grand Council.
Mi'kmaw Grand Council Flag
History of the NL Mi'kmaq
When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, the Mi'kmaq were "pencilled out" of the contract. The Canadian government did not want the financial responsibility of more "Indians." Therefore, the then-premiere Joseph Smallwood agreed to deny our existence to ensure the deal he felt was best for Newfoundland – to join Canada – went ahead.
Since then, it has been a monumental struggle for the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq to gain recognition from the federal government. Many brave and wise warriors, whom we refer to as "The Warriors of the Flame," fought a long battle for recognition for more than five decades. Their strategy included organizing and establishing all the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq and their community bands under a united alliance. This alliance was initially called the Native Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and its chief membership by late 1972 included six affiliated bands on the island of Newfoundland: Benoits Cove Indian Band (now named Elmastukwek First Nation), Corner Brook Indian Band, Flat Bay Indian Band, Gander Bay Indian Band, Glenwood Indian Band, Port au Port Indian Band. This alliance was later renamed the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). It was the FNI who eventually fought the Canadian government in court.
Conne River was also an early member of the FNI, and it was a great success when they were the first to achieve recognition in 1982. They were the first primarily because their community remained isolated compared to the others and, therefore, nearly 100% Mi’kmaw. Five years later, it officially became a reserve under the Indian Act. They had no choice but to withdraw from the FNI since they could no longer be part of any lawsuits against the federal government.
The FNI continued its work for the rest of the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, conducting genealogical studies to support our claims and eventually having our day in court. The FNI added three more community bands around this time: St. George's, Exploit's, and Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing. More decades went by while our Warriors of the Flame continued fighting our fight.
Elmastukwek First Nation (Benoit's Cove Indian Band)
As one of the original grassroots bands of the FNI, the local Benoit's Cove Indian Band, was initially started in the 1970s. Like the other bands, our community's population comprised either a majority or at least a significant portion of Mi'kmaw people. The FNI allowed us to increase our resistance to total assimilation and begin expressing our identity as Indigenous people. For the first time in many decades, Mi’kmaw people in Newfoundland began to self-identify publicly.
While the primary goal of the FNI was to obtain official recognition and registration from the Government of Canada, the purpose of the Benoit's Cove Indian Band band was to promote, foster, and protect the interests and well-being of its members. This goal is still its primary intent today.
Throughout the decades, Benoit's Cove Indian Band strived to keep our culture alive in our community. Given the severely limited funding available to non-status bands, it wasn't always easy to do. But our leaders persevered and kept the spark alive within us all these years.
In 2003, Benoit's Cove Indian Band changed its name to Elmastogoeg First Nation. This spelling of the word is the Listuguj orthography system of writing that is used in the Gaspe area and New Brunswick. When the band was revived in 2022, the spelling was changed to Elmastukwek First Nation to follow the Smith-Francis orthography system of writing used in Nova Scotia and PEI.
Our community-based grassroots band took a backseat after the formation of the Qalipu First Nation. It hasn't been active for quite some time until recently. The heartfelt desire to look after our community's culture and to provide opportunities for both our status and non-status members equally prompted our band's revival in 2022.
Since its revival, the Elmastukwek First Nation Band has made great strides in providing its members with opportunities to learn our ancestors' traditional ways. Through traditional cultural teachings from our Elders and Knowledge Keepers, learning how to make sacred and cultural items like hand drums and ribbon skirts, and providing training and education to members to enhance their economic opportunities, Elmastukwek First Nation is hard at work to revive the customs that make us a strong and healthy community.
We would not be where we are today without the courage and perseverance of our early warriors. Today, we can practise our culture, traditions, and ceremonies freely and with much less discrimination. We honour our early warriors whenever we speak Mi'kmaw, play our drum, go to a ceremony, wear our ribbon skirts/shirts, tan hides, or do anything our Mi'kmaw ancestors did. We thank you all for everything you sacrificed for us!
Msit No'kmaq (All My Relations)
OUR CHIEF & COUNCIL
Elmastukwek First Nation is governed by one Chief and three Councillors that are elected every four years by our band members.