Muin: The Tale of Two Grandmothers

In late November 2018, I was writing a short story that had a character based on my grandmother in it. She was born in the early 1900s on the Mi’kmaq First Nation of We’koqma’q (Waycobah) located on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Reflecting on her life I still marvel at how this petite, tiny, woman growing up on the land where her people lived for generations, surrounded by people who judged her based on her race/religion, not only survived but thrived. Her ferocity was twice her size, but with that silent look of disapproval she developed over the years she rarely had to show it (well at least if you were smart and stopped what you were doing wrong.); and then out of nowhere I thought to myself, "I am writing about my Mi’kmaq grandmother but this could be about my Irish grandmother too."
While I am a proud Mi’kmaw (singular) from the We’kopekwitk (Millbrook) First Nation in Nova Scotia, my mother’s family is from a small town in the centre of Northern Ireland called Cookstown. Like my Mi’kmaq grandmother, my Irish Catholic grandmother was born in the early 1900s and grew up in the turmoil of Northern Ireland and wanting a different life she fearlessly boarded a boat in the late-1920s and set sail for Canada.
Coincidentally, I was also reading a book on Celtic legends and came across a word that I was very familiar with…Muin. Muin is the Mi’kmaq word for Bear and why it stood out for me, other than a Mi'kmaq word in a Celtic book, is because the Muin is also my spirit guide. A Spirit Guide is an animal spirit that is a person’s guide on their path of life. Helping them look inside themselves and find the answers they need as they go forward in life.
For some reason, I became fascinated with the word Muin and how two important women in my life from different races and cultures, but yet had so many life experiences in common, shared that word. I eventually talked with the head of a Gaelic language college who explained in the Irish Gaelic context the word originally meant ‘Vine’, typically a Vine necklace.
Wanting to know more I read a couple of books about my Irish grandmother’s ancestors, and Celtic peoples in general, and found out they were almost identical to my Mi’kmaq ancestors. They were once the Indigenous peoples of Hibernia (Ireland), Alba (Scotland), and Britannia (Britain). Proud, fierce, warriors who hunted and fished. Who wore paint on their faces to mark celebratory occasions or during conflicts, but over time they became another Indigenous culture who was resigned to the history books.
On the surface my two grandmothers were very different in regards to race, religion, and language; but underneath their skin, in their hearts, they were both strong fierce women who lived extraordinary lives for almost 90 years on this Earth. These two women not only shared a word between their two cultures but also 4 grandsons that carry on a piece of both of them to this day. Just like so many other people do from the various cultures that live in Mi'kma'ki (Mi’kmaq traditional territory), other Indigenous lands, and the rest of Canada today.

Out of respect for these two women, The Bear and The Vine, I created Muin Clothing Co.

Wela'lioq/ Go raibh maith agat/Thank You,

Derek Lewis

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