The Mi’kmaq language, especially when it comes to place names, is a descriptive one.
Often, the proper names given to places describe a geographical feature or a particular land use the location was known for.
For example, Ktaqmkuk — the Mi’kmaq word for Newfoundland is translated as “the larger shore” or “the other shore.”
Around 20 years ago, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians began a traditional land-use project and, along the way, collected some of these names. While some were clearly Mi’kmaq, some seem to have been anglicized as European interpretations of the original Indigenous words.
In the Ktaqmkuk Handbook, the document that resulted from the research into Mi’kmaq place names, the English name of the rugged Annieopsquotch Mountains in southwestern Newfoundland, for instance, is derived from the Mi’kmaq word Aniapskwoj, which means “terrible rocks.”
Now that the handbook is published and a coinciding interactive map developed, the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band is looking to expand the project even further by collecting stories about these and any other locations found on the island of Ktaqmkuk.
That work has fallen to Nicole Travers, Qalipu’s cultural resource co-ordinator. She recalls stories her own mother would tell of her family canoeing in Grand Lake or visiting the Serpentine Valley decades ago.
Travers said, back then, the whole family would sometimes go for summertime excursions that would last a week or so.
“It’s stories like that we’re looking for,” she said. “Something that can link our people to different place names. It doesn’t have to be a Mi’kmaq place name — just somewhere on the island.”
The stories don’t have to be about the name of the place, added Travers. The emphasis is trying to find memories of how and why places were traditionally enjoyed.
“And it doesn’t have to be a story,” she said. “It could be a picture. The intention is to have a layered map, or an additional one in line with the one with the traditional names on it, that you could hear the word pronounced or listen to a story about it or look at a photo of it.”
There were many stories collected along with the names during the original land use project. Travers has gone back to listen to interviews captured for that project to elicit stories or sources for them from the work already done.
“I love it because it’s all about history and, a lot of times — especially with the electronic age — we’re kind of getting away from history and the tradition of orally passing down stories,” she said.
With many people who have some of the best traditional stories getting older with each passing day, Travers said time is of the essence in collecting this historic material for posterity.
She hopes to have the project finished this spring.
Anyone who has a story or photo they would like to share with Travers can reach her via email at [email protected] or by phone at 709-634-4706.