In Search of Kluskap: A Journey Into Mi’kmaw Myth

The UMF community celebrated faculty who published books in 2013 and 2014 at a reception on March 10. Each faculty member’s book was introduced with remarks from another faculty member, a nice (and relatively new) UMF tradition. Several faculty members from the Humanities were on hand as authors, and we wanted to share some of the commentary on their books.

Jennifer Reid, Finding Kluskap: A Journey into Mi’kmaw Myth, introduced by Gaelyn Aguilar.

Jennifer Reid’s Finding Kluskap: A Journey into Mi’kmaw Myth packs a small, but mighty punch. In just under 97 pages, Jennifer manages to unravel the complex connections between and among: The Mi’kmaq of Eastern Canada—the first indigenous North Americans to encounter Colonial Europeans; Kluskap, a Mi’kmaw mythic hero; St. Anne—the grandmother of Jesus and a bedrock of Mi’kmaw Catholicism; and post-modern discourse.

It’s less an unraveling, perhaps, than (by Jennifer’s own admission) an “hermeneutic pilgrimage.” Working her way through the history of scholarship on Kluskap (who remains for the Mi’kmaq associated with the landscape), Jennifer pieces together how stories of Kluskap are indelibly linked to a series of 18th century treaties negotiated by the Mi’kmaq and the British government. The mythic hero is cast as a champion of aboriginal and treaty rights.

Aware that “the relationship between individual myths is no more predictable than the experiences of the world in which that community finds itself,” Jennifer becomes aware of the necessity of getting away from “just ideas,” as her daughter admonishes her in one scene, so as to explore actual people and places. Places like St. Anne’s Mission in Potlotek (also known as Chapel Island off the coast of Cape Breton Island). The mission—in fact, the oldest one on Canada—“spatially and sacredly connects Kluskap, St. Anne, and Mi’kmaw sovereignty,” even as it serves as the site for an annual pilgrimage for the Mi’kmaq.

A reviewer has pointed out that Jennifer follows Michael McNally’s challenge “to focus not just on what missionaries intended Christianity to ‘do to’ Native people, but what Native people have ‘made of’ the Christian tradition.”1 It is here that Jennifer drives beyond the easy categorization of syncretism in explaining Mi’kmaw Catholicism and the quick integration of St. Anne into Mi’kmaw culture, preferring instead Homi Bhabha’s category of interstitial or in-between spaces—“arenas in which inherited cultural forms (both indigenous and colonial) are not simply rearticulated in new configurations but are the fuel behind entirely new conceptions of reality and power.”

It would take a while to parse through Jennifer’s argument about postmodern discourse—an argument guided “by Claude Lévi-Strauss’ dictum that the only culture we can change is our own.” One of Jennifer’s conclusions is that “[t]hese postmodern discourses may be well suited to speaking about the marginalization of modern peoples, but they are not so appropriate a mechanism for representing the meanings of modernity that are forged within these so-called marginalized spaces.”


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