Mi'kmaq Tradition: I'ko - Sarah Denny
Sarah Denny. Photograph by Ronald Caplan. Cape Breton's Magazine, Issue 40: 41. © 1972/2010 Ronald Caplan.
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About this Song

Sarah Denny learned this song from the singing of Michael Paul. I'ko is an ancient Mi'kmaw gathering song; however, there are several stories of its origins. Some say that it has Mohawk origins1 while others say that it is a song of peace between the Mi'kmaq and the Mohawk.2 The text does not provide any clues as it is entirely comprised of vocables. Linguist Bernie Francis has explained that these songs have meaning in their performance as they express emotions.3

This field recording was collected by Ronnie MacEachern in 1978.

I'ko, 1978. Sarah Denny. T-1076. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

About the Artist

Sarah Denny was a Mi'kmaq elder from Eskasoni who dedicated her life to the preservation of the Mi'kmaw language, culture, and dance. She was born in 1925 to Richard and Mary Rose (Christmas) Johnson, but was raised by her grandmother, Julia Bernard Nevin. She was married to Noel R. Denny and together they raised a large family of 12 children. Sarah believed strongly in the retention and preservation of the Mi'kmaq culture, and she worked towards this goal for 30 years as a cultural officer with the Mi'kmaq Association of Cultural Studies. Her knowledge on Mi'kmaq Hymns, dance and medicines was extraordinary and she was considered an expert on these topics.

She recorded many traditional Mi'kmaq songs and dances over the years, which she also taught to her children, and eventually she established the Denny Family Dance Group. She received many awards for her work over the years and always credited the elders and her grandmother as the source of her knowledge. It is because of Sarah's lifetime efforts of cultural preservation that many Mi'kmaq hymns, dances and songs have not been lost or forgotten. Sarah died on September 6, 2002 at the age of 77.

Lyrics

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I'ko' i'kanne'
I'ko' i'kanne'
I'ko' I'ko' i'kanne'
I'ko kwa'nu'ta' e'

I'ko kwa'nu'ta' e'
I'ko kwa'nu'ta' e'
I'ko' I'ko' i'kanne'
I'ko kwa'nu'ta' e'

I'ko' i'kanne'
I'ko' i'kanne'
I'ko' I'ko' i'kanne'
Kwa'nu'ta' e'

Ta Ho!