What is the one thing that makes any place worth visiting? The thing that gives each locale a unique flavour, moving travellers in a profound way and allowing them to see the world in a new light?
As New Brunswickers, we often look elsewhere for a generous helping of cultural inspiration, often ignoring the history scattered throughout our land, unconvinced of its ability to connect us to our roots.
But with a visit to the Metepenagiag Heritage Park, you won’t make that mistake again.
Known as “the village of thirty centuries,” Metepenagiag is considered the largest and oldest prehistoric village in the Maritimes. Located just outside Miramichi in Red Bank, the heritage park offers its visitors an authentic aboriginal experience, sharing music, hiking trails, archeological finds and traditions that have helped shaped Mi’kmaq culture for over 3,000 years.
The Metepenagiag Heritage Park offers many activities, tours and accommodations suited for all needs. You can book conferences, participate in powwows, take a self-guided tour of the museum or dive head first into their experience package, which offers traditional music, food and stories from Metepenagiag elders.
Typically bustling with a medley of school groups, tourists and locals, we took our tour in June on an early Monday morning, giving us the place to ourselves. Having opted for the experience package, we kicked things off with a self-guided tour of the Interpretation Centre, with its interactive displays and impressive multimedia theatre, to learn all that we could about the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq and their Creation story.
Becoming fully equipped with a basic understanding of Mi’kmaq culture, we made our way outside for a cookout along the Miramichi River. The welcoming breeze made for great company as we watched the staff cook traditional Mi’kmaq food over the blazing campfire.
Our first taste of Metepenagiag cuisine was of moose meatballs, mixed with wild rice, sage and onion. Moose is considered the most important game for the Mi’kmaq, with a boy’s first successful hunt serving as a passage into manhood. Each part of the carcass is also used in abundance for meat, clothing and utensils. My only criticism of our savoury meat is that there wasn’t enough – I could have eaten dozens of these meatballs if given the chance!
Enjoying our dish all the same, we waited for our second traditional helping, luskinikn bread, to round out our meal. Made simply with flour, baking powder, salt and water, I was most intrigued watching the staff prepare the luskinikn, as it is custom for the bread to bake underneath the campfire, buried in the sand.
Yes, you read right: our bread was baked in the sand.
Though I was a bit skeptical of this method at first, it turned out to be some of the most incredible bread I ever had, with its dense, biscuity taste having me questioning the way I bake at home. For any parent looking to bring some old New Brunswick customs to their next family camping trip, baking luskinikn should definitely be at the top of your list!
As we anxiously waited to dive into our meal, we scoured the nearby tree-line gathering teaberry leaves for our afternoon brew, similar to the hunter-gatherers who came before us. Tasting quite like peppermint, we tranquilly sipped our warm tea while having the pleasure of listening to the drumming and singing of local Mi’kmaq musician and songwriter, George Paul.
With every song, George would share stories of Mi’kmaq culture and tell us how the people lived vibrantly within the community. He taught us that it is through music that the Mi’kmaq offer gratitude to Mother Earth each time something is taken from her for their survival, and also in celebration of each passing milestone, such as a baby’s first tooth.
It was in this moment that I felt inspired by this inclusive culture, having a profound appreciation for such a gracious, self-sufficient community and their incredible bond to nature. This was undoubtedly my favourite part of the day’s events, as we were able to share a deep, personal connection to the Mi’kmaq, having the chance to discuss their beliefs and grow in their understanding of the world. By the end of George’s performance, he had us on our feet singing and dancing to traditional steps as if no one else was watching.
As our experience wrapped-up, we were free to explore the grounds and take in the natural, living history of the heritage park. We were able to tour the hiking trails, examine the three wigwams standing as proud examples of aboriginal shelters, and gaze across the river to the exact spot where the Mi’kmaq built their lives on Augustine mound. As one of two archeological sites in Metepenagiag (the other being Oxbow), it has been littered with ancient artifacts demonstrating how the Mi’kmaq lived for millennia, reaffirming everything they’ve known that has been passed down from generation to generation.
It truly was an authentic aboriginal experience; one that really changed the way I look at our deep, New Brunswick roots.
Our new friends told us there is no term for “goodbye” in Mi’kmaq. Having always built relationships with many First Nations communities throughout our land and believing we are all part of a great and endless circle of life, there simply is no use for such a word. In it’s place, the Mi’kmaq say “Ap nmu’ltes” (app-new-mul-tahs), which means “I will see you again.”
And after glimpsing humbly into all the Metepenagiag Heritage Park has to offer, I know they most certainly will.
Travel blogger for thehereandwow.com and member of the Travel Media Association of Canada. Follow her adventures on twitter (@ginaalward), Facebook (The Here and Wow) and Instagram (@thehereandwow).
Note: This article was originally posted by Telegraph-Journal on July 29, 2016. Click here for link.
For more Mi’kmaq culture, click here.