Mi’kmaw grandmothers are gathering in Unama’ki (Cape Breton, N.S.) this weekend in hopes of inspiring the next generation of community leaders through lessons in cultural knowledge, ceremonies and oral storytelling.
Karen Bernard, a Mi’kmaw woman from We’koqma’q First Nation, says the event is a great place to learn.
“I love it, I love the feeling I get and the energy I acquire there,” said Bernard.
She helped organize the first grandmothers’ gathering in 2020, which has since become an annual event. This year, Bernard is taking a break from organizing so she can attend and just focus on learning.
She’s a grandmother-in-training, she said.
Sharing parents advice, traditional medicine
The Mi’kmaq Circle of Hope typically sponsors the event and invites grandmothers from the five Mi’kmaw Unama’ki communities: We’koqma’q, Potlotek, Membertou, Wagmatcook and Eskasoni First Nations.
Bernard says the grandmothers always share a variety of knowledge, including parenting advice, traditional medicines, cultural knowledge and oral legends.
She said she’s grateful for the knowledge the other women share — and she said she’s amazed at the caring nature of the women, despite the colonial violence they’ve faced.
“They make you feel like this is where you need to be, and this is where you should be,” Bernard said.
Heidi Marshall organized this year’s gathering, which will take place in Cleveland, a community about 118 kilometres southwest of Sydney, N.S.
About 50 grandmothers are scheduled to attend the event. There will still be strict public health measures in place at the gathering, including physical distancing and making rapid tests available.
In Mi’kmaw culture, grandmothers are held in high esteem, Marshall said, and they’re often a child’s first teacher. She says any leader in Mi’kma’ki, the homeland of the Mi’kmaq, can learn a lot from the grandmothers.
“I think it’s really important for us to spend this time with them so we can pass on their knowledge as well,” Marshall said. “The grandmothers need to be heard and want to be heard. Their knowledge should be shared, because we’re the keepers of our culture.”