History of Gesgapegiag

Gesgapegiag is an L’nu – Mi’gmaq community that is located in Gespe’gewa’gi (The Last Land), also known as the seventh district of Mi’gma’gi. Gespe’gewa’gi has been the traditional unceded lands and waters of the L’nu – Mi’gmaq Nation, since time immemorial. Today, these traditional lands are now known as the Gaspé Peninsula, parts of mainland Québec and Maine, and northeastern New Brunswick. There are three L’nu – Mi’gmaq communities within Gespe’gewa’gi: Gespeg, Gesgapegiag and Listuguj. The total population of Gesgapegiag members is 1,542 with 712 living in the community and 830 living outside the community.

According to our Elder, Pn’nal, Many years ago, there lived a group of Mi’gmaq along the shores of the Bay of Chaleur, in the region of the seventh district of the Mi’gmaq Nation.

The Mi’gmaq were known as Gesgapegiawag, or the wandering people, after years of nomadic life in search of land as foretold by the elders. They finally came upon this land of which a child had dreamt of and established a community on the estuary of the Gesgapegiag River, where the river widens and turns to salt. Their leader, Wagatasg, chose this area for its richness and beauty. It is a place which the Spirit has set aside for its children.

To the East, the land of the eagle and the rising sun, there are the medicines of sweet grass, muskrat root, tobacco and teas from various plants. There is also shellfish, whale, seal and other species.

To the South, the land of the turtle and mid-day, there is the warm salty bay, which Mi’gmaq have used for preserving foods for the winter months. More of-ten salt from the bay was used as an antibiotic medicine. It is the direction from where the salmon, bass, eel and other water species come. Other species dur-ing the late part of summer can be seen such as the otter, geese, mallards and the turtle.

To the West, the land of thunder and of the setting sun, there is much to be had. The swampland provides us with plants of medicine, food and shelter. The medicine of the wetland consists of sweet-grass, cranberry, alder and other species. The food that the West provides is potatoes, corn, wheat and other grains, deer, elk and porcupine that were used for food, clothing and crafts. Cedar, spruce, juniper and poplar were also abundant.

To the North, land of the Bear: caribou, beaver, moose and other fur-bearing animals were also available to the Mi’gmaq.

The Gesgapegiag River was the main provider of the region for transportation in hunting, fishing and harvesting, for this is the place where maple trees provided maple sugar in the spring of the year, the black ash provided for baskets and snowshoe frames, birch provided bark for canoes, dwellings and household items such as cookware. The toboggan was also made of birch wood strips. Along the shores of the Gesgapegiag River the Mi’gmaq harvested foods such as fiddleheads, mint, hazelnuts and bush cranberries. Considering the northerly location, the climate is exceptionally mild during the year. The warm breeze of the bay to the south and the mountain range to the north influence the weather.

Wagatasg was a brave and wise Mi’gmaq leader of Gesgapegiag. Long before he was born, it had been prophesized by the elders that the day would come when a child would be born amongst the Mi’gmaq to teach and lead them.

It was said that there would be a sign on the day of the child’s birth: Mother Earth would close her eyes at noon and darkness would come over her, for a brief period, as if night-time.

One mid-summer day of the seventh month, the wisdom of the elders was revealed. First, at mid-day, came a heavy silence, as if all life had lost its voice. When the Mi’gmaq looked up to the sky they could see Grandmother Moon move toward the front of Grandfather Sun and cast her shadow over Mother Earth.

Witnessing the event, the elders of the community summoned the warriors and ordered them to build a sacred fire fitting for The Great Spirit. The elders of great vision offered medicines to the fire. Once the offering was complete, the elders told the Mi’gmaq that the day had come. Today, in the seventh wigwam they would witness the prophecy come true.

High upon the tall pine tree, as if in harmony, the raven spoke and a great eagle circling high above added his voice. At this time the Mi’gmaq heard the wail of a newborn child. As soon as it had begun, Grandmother Moon moved off to the west, allowing Grandfather Sun to again bless Mother Earth with his golden light. The Mi’gmaq rejoiced and feasted for seven days. Truly, the event that the elders had spoken of so long ago had come, just as they had predicted.

The seasons came and went and Wagatasg and the Mi’gmaq of Gesgapegiag enjoyed the bounty that Mother Earth provided for them. So, it went for seven times eleven years and the Mi’gmaq knew that soon their brave warrior, Waga-tasg, would leave on a great journey.

After the harvest, the Mi’gmaq prepared for the coming harsh winter months. Wagatasg would sit by the fire and share stories, songs, laughter and joy. One evening, as they sat around the fire, the people sensed that something was not right with Wagatasg, he was quiet and his mind was drawn to the sky. Wagatasg stood up and summoned his people to the fire. Wagatasg had mixed feelings of the message he had for the Mi’gmaq. With his soft trembling voice, he informed his beloved people that his time had come, according to prophecy, to go on to the great journey of the spirit world. The Mi’gmaq remembered what the elders had told years ago: they must prepare for the long journey. It was told that on the seventh day of the eleventh month, their leader and the Mi’gmaq must travel north to the mountain and wait for a sign, as someone calling from the Skite’krnuju-awti (Spirits’ Road or Milky Way). As they approached the summit, they saw a great glare of light high in the sky. It flickered and danced, and radiated toward them. The Mi’gmaq gathered close and made a circle around Wagatasg to help for the journey.

Suddenly, a flash of light sliced through the night sky blinding everyone around Wagatasg. When their eyes recovered from the blinding flash, they realized that Wagatasg was no longer among them. He had gone to join the spirit of the night sky and is among the spirits we now know as the Wagatasg (Northern Lights).

Today, north of Gesgapegiag, there is a mountain known as Besge’ameneg, meaning, ‘a cut-off’ or ‘a short way’. If you were to look out your window toward the North, on the seventh day of the eleventh month, you will witness the dance of Wagatasg, the spirits of the sky, for Wagatasg is still watching over his people. - Pn’nal Jerome