Mi’kmaq and Maliseet Cultural Ancestral Material. Stephen J. Augustine. Mercury Series, Ethnology Paper 140. Gatineau: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2005. 260 pp.
Reviewed by Janice Esther Tulk
Mi’kmaq and Maliseet Cultural Ancestral Material
by Stephen J. Augustine is a catalogue of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet material
culture held by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Objects in this
collection date as early as 1841 and represent post-contact culture of
Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities. Cultural materials dating from even
earlier periods are extant, but are largely housed in the collections
of museums in other countries. While two-thirds of the collection was
assembled from the contributions of several anthropologists, including
Frank G. Speck, W. H. Mechling, and Wilson Wallis and Ruth Wallis,
one-third of the collection is the result of the efforts of Mi’kmaq and
Maliseet people, including objects collected by Gabe Paul, James Paul,
and Dr. Peter Lewis Paul (pp. 5-6).
This print catalogue grew out of an electronic catalogue that was titled Mi’kmaq and Maliseet Cultural Objects on the Web.
This had been produced with the support of Canada’s Digital Collections
of Industry Canada. Its goals were to create an accessible finding aid
to objects held by the museum and to produce an information source for
curriculum development. As Andrea Leforet’s preface to the print
version notes, the electronic catalogue of objects made them available
to community members, educators, and students around the world at the
click of a mouse. However, the lifespan of internet resources may be
quite short; the print version of the catalogue would circulate at a
slower pace, but provide much needed longevity. As of the time of
writing this review, the electronic catalogue is no longer available at
its original location; however, items in the print catalogue are
included in Collection Storage on the Canadian Museum of Civilization
website at http://collections.civilization.ca.
catalogue is divided into two parts: Mi’kmaq Artifacts and Maliseet
Artifacts. Ordered by catalogue number (and therefore largely in
chronological order by collection date), each entry provides a
photographic negative number, digital photograph number, object name,
object type, description, cultural affiliation with community where
possible, and collection date and collector/donor, where known. Most
entries are accompanied by a high quality color photograph of the item.
In the few instances where photographs are not available, there is no
explanation given for their omission. There are also a few anomalies in
the catalogue numbers supplied that deviate from the standard form
(III-F-# identifying Mi’kmaq and III-E-# identifying Maliseet). A
footnote explaining these deviations would have been useful should one
wish to do further work with these materials.
the indices that are provided make it easy to locate the specific type
of material culture in which one is interested, with indices specific
to each collection and an index to object names, further
cross-referencing would have improved its usability for scholars
working in specific communities or with specific people. In future
editions, an index to artifacts by community or place name would be a
very helpful addition, as well as an index by the maker, owner, or
donor of the artifact itself.
brief introductory essay that accompanies this catalogue provides a
general overview of the types of cultural objects produced in
post-contact Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities, the indigenous materials
used to produce them, and the impact of contact on many aspects of
Mi’kmaq and Maliseet culture. Augustine’s expertise as both the
museum’s Curator of Ethnology (Eastern Maritimes) and a Mi’kmaq who has
learned about traditional Mi’kmaq culture from his Elders is
demonstrated by the re-classification of some items originally thought
to be Maliseet as Mi’kmaq artifacts. This will be particularly
significant for those working with these collections in the future.
However, it is here that Augustine had an opportunity to produce
explanatory or interpretive material that would be of great value to
researchers using this catalogue as a resource. Discussion of the
problems of identification, the similarities and differences between
Mi’kmaq and Maliseet material culture, the culture-specific
characteristics or decorative motifs of the artifacts presented, or the
relationship of material culture to worldview would have made this
already successful catalogue of material culture an even stronger
resource for scholarly purposes.
Mi’kmaq and Maliseet Cultural Ancestral Material
is a finding aid that indexes a wide range of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet
material culture held in the collections of the Canadian Museum of
Civilization. Tools, musical instruments, baskets, clothing, and many
other items of material culture are catalogued, making known the
contents of the museum collection to First Nations communities, as well
as the general public, educators, and researchers. This text will be a
valuable tool for those studying material culture through the
disciplines of folklore, anthropology, ethnomusicology, or history.
Esther Tulk is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at Memorial
University of Newfoundland. Based on fieldwork with Mi’kmaq communities
in Newfoundland and New Brunswick, her dissertation explores
contemporary traditional music. She has contributed to several
journals, including Culture & Tradition and Newfoundland and Labrador Studies.