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I found some interesting information about the origins of Rafe Martin’s The Rough Face Girl.  Rafe Martin briefly alludes to his version being and Algonquin tale, part of a longer traditional story.  I wish that he had been more specific – however the wonders of the Internet helped me track down the original.  In 1882 Charles G. Leland spent two years traveling among different tribes writing down their oral traditions.  He had some help, though.  A Baptist minister by the name of Reverend S.T. Rand lent him a copy of 85 different tales that Rand had recorded during his time with the Mi’Kmaq.  In 1884 Charles G. Leland published The Algonquin Legends of New England.  He took two years and traveled among the Passamaquoddy (The name of the town in one of my favorite Disney movies Pete’s Dragon), Penobscot tribes of Maine, and the Micmacs of New Brunswick.  Found in his book is a legend called “The Invisible Being”.  After reading the legend it is quite clear that this is where Rafe Martin encountered the Native American Cinderella!!!  The similarity of The Invisible Being and Paurralt’s version of Cinderella is obvious.  There are those that believe that the French trappers told the Mi’kmaq Paurralt’s story, and then the Mi’kmaq took elements of Cinderella and incorporated it with elements of their own legends and myths.  I happen to be one of them!!

Historical Accuracy

Finding literature that adds to historical content in the classroom is essential whether it is in a public school setting or in the home.  Anderson (2010, p. 235) states, “historical fiction presents an accurate portrayal of the historical period depicted, can be woven into the study of history, and can improve children’s knowledge and attitudes toward the subject.”  Rafe Martin does an excellent job incorporating items and customs relative to Mi’Kmac life.


The Mi’Kmaq lived in wigwams, a conical structure made using poles covered with birch bark.  They held in between 10-24 people.  During the winter months women would often decorate the wigwams with pictures of animals. They were built in such a fashion that they could be easily taken down to move to their next area for hunting.


Buckskin cloaks, dresses and leggings were worn by Mi’Kmaq women.  More formal cloaks decorated with beads, and painted were used for marriages and other ceremonies.  Women of distinction in the village wore pointed caps (Mi’Kmaq Spirit, 2012).   Rough-Face Girl takes her fathers moccasins, and some shells to create her wedding ensemble.  The Mi’Kmaq often decorated their formal clothing with birds and animals using pigment made from “red and yellow ochre from the earth, charcoal and ground white shell. These were mixed with fish roe or bird egg yolks” (Nova Scotia Museum, para 7).  It wasn’t until after European influence that the Mi’Kmaq used beads and shells as jewelry.


An important member of the Mi’Kmaq tribe were the Shamans.  Their role was to heal and to provide spiritual guidance (Multicultural Canada).  The sister to the Invisible Being happened to be the wise woman of the village.  In Rafe Martin’s version the sister gives Rough-Face Girl the finest of buckskin cloaks and tells her to go bath in the lake.  When she comes out she is purified, her skin like new, her hair long and strong.  In the original story recorded by Rand the sister actually “washed her with water from a special jar” which is typical of a shaman.  According to Multicultural Canada


Nature played an important role in the lives of the Mi’kmaq.  Rafe Martin seems to idealize that role as he had Rough-Face Girl ponder the beauty of the earth and sky.  This is kind of the romanticized ideal that Native Americans lived in harmony with the earth.  While it is true, they respected the earth.  Part of it came from necessity.  If you think about it, for them everything came from nature – their food, their shelter, their clothing.  I love how authors of Mi’kmaq Spirit state, “Aboriginal people were pragmatic, and did what was necessary for survival. It was under these harsh realities that they developed the traditions that enabled them to live in harmony with the land.” (para. 4).

The Spirit Road

Both Rafe Martin and the original oral telling of the Invisible One both have the Spirit Road, the Milky Way incorporated in the story as part of the test.  The Spirit Road is the road that the spirit travels when someone has lived a good life.  If they didn’t live their life well, they return to earth to learn more lessons.  Lescarbot, the first historian to write about Arcadian life back in the 1600’s stated, “They believe also that when they die they go up into the stars, and afterwards they go into fair green fields, full and fair trees, flowers, and rare fruits” (pg. 156-7).  He then goes on to tell how he and his fellow missionaries went about showing them the error of their ways and beliefs.


Primary Sources

It is crucial that our students learn to utilize primary sources, and there are several out there that allow our students to learn more about the culture of the Mi’kmaq.  One of my favorite activities in college was taking a picture of an earthen crockery with engravings and writing what it taught me about that society.  At first I balked at the assignment, but as I got into it I noticed so much – such as the picture of barley or wheat, the sheep, etc.  I learned that the culture had a strong agricultural basis.

For The Rough-Face Girl and Mi’kmaq history have your child/students find 2 primary sources.  This can be anything from a photo, journal entry, or notes written by observers (although often very biased) and have them fill out the following information:

  1. Describe the primary sources you have chosen.  What are they?  Where are they from?
  2. What is happening in these primary sources?
  3. What have you learned about the Mi’kmaq from these sources?  

Make a Wigwam

Sometimes getting creative is the key to developing interest in historical subjects.  The wigwam is such an important aspect of Mi’kmaq life, and a huge part of The Rough-Face Girl constructing a wigwam is an ideal activity.  There are so many techniques, and resources on the Internet that show you how to construct a wigwam, or an entire village if you get ambitious.  You can get as simple as using pipe cleaners (my kiddos would love this). You can even make a clay wigwam or during the summer find some space in your backyard and make a lifesized wigwam.

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More Reading

If you are interested in finding out more about the Mi’kmaq there were two websites that I found the most helpful:


Lescarbot, M. (1606) Nova Francia: A Description of Acadia

Mi’Kmaq Spirit (2012).  Dress and Ornamentation. http://www.muiniskw.org/pgCulture1e.htm

Multicultural Cananda (n.d.). Culture and Religion.  http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/Encyclopedia/A-Z/a2/6

Nova Scotia Museum. (n.d.). Mi’Kmaq http://museum.gov.ns.ca/arch/infos/mikmaq1.htm