Micmac - Economy
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Micmac hunted caribou, moose, deer, and bear primarily. They fished for cod, eel, clams, oysters, lobster, smelt, salmon, trout, and other fish. They gathered berries and wild potatoes. In the early contact period, the fur trade was very important. European trade provided metal tools, which improved hunting and fishing, but European efforts to make fanners of the Micmac failed. Only the potato was a successful introduction; potatoes provided valuable food in the winter, and raising them did not interfere with other activities. Most Micmac cash income has come from wage labor and the sale of handicrafts and fish. There have recently been numerous failed attempts by the federal government to develop manufacturing industries. Micmac have owned and operated gift shops, convenience stores, garages, and logging and construction companies, which have done well for the most part. Presently, welfare and work projects are the major sources of income on most reserves; on a few, many of the men travel to cities to work in construction or factories.
Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included stone toolmaking, woodworking, bone and antler working, skin and leatherwork, and the construction of bark housing, cookware, containers, and canoes. The major items of manufacture in the later postcontact period were ash-splint baskets, axe handles, and butter tubs. Presently, only a few people still produce baskets.
Trade. There is archeological and historical evidence of precontact and contact-era trade with peoples to the west and the south. The Micmac were among the first to engage in the fur trade with the Europeans, and consequently they depleted their stock of fur-bearing animals early. Later they peddled baskets and axe handles. They also caught and sold fish and in some places hunted porpoises for oil, which was sold. When temporarily settled, they traded butter tubs to nearby stores for food and manufactured items. Trading activities essentially ceased when welfare payments were increased in the 1950s.
Division of Labor. In early historical times, men hunted, trapped, fished, moved their families, made wooden and bone tools, wigwams and canoes, and carried on warfare. Political and ritual activities were also primarily performed by men. Women brought water and firewood, prepared skins and made clothing, cooked, made bark containers, cared for the children, and retrieved game that the men had killed. In later postcontact times, men cut and split the wood used in baskets, and women wove it. Women also did most of the selling of baskets. Men would work as laborers on nearby farms, and women as domestic laborers. In contemporary times, women keep house while men work at casual labor as lumberjacks and carpenters. The governing of the bands is still largely a male task.
Land Tenure. At contact, Micmac were mobile, though some leaders regulated hunting territories within their sphere of control. After this, Whites slowly took control of the lands, until it became necessary to create reserves, and Whites encroached on many of these. Reserve land is vested in the Crown in right of the dominion, with Indians holding a beneficial interest. Band members may lawfully possess lots on Reserves, if so approved by the band's council and the minister of Indian affairs.