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Project Details

Project dates
11/02/2024  – 08/03/2024
Membertou, NS

Ethan Paul

Project Lead

Esmut Apuknajit: Empowering Mi’kmaw youth with traditional knowledge and practice of harvesting eels.

Project Description

Esmut Apuknajit is a project designed to empower Mi’kmaw youth in Unama’ki (Cape Breton Island) with the knowledge of sustainable and traditional Mi’kmaq practices of harvesting Kataq (American Eel).

Our first segment, the Mid-Winter Youth Mawio’mi, took place at the Membertou Heritage Park. Commencing with a community feast and a ceremony led by Elder Yvonne Meunier, attendees participated in a sacred offering of a spirit plate to Apuknajit, the spirit of winter. Followed by Jeff Ward singing the bear song in honour of the recent passing of Danny Paul, a knowledge keeper, pipe carrier, dancer, and hunter in our community of Membertou. Then speaker Clifford Paul, the Moose Management Coordinator at the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, enlightened the audience about crucial concepts central to Mi’kmaq ways of knowing and being. Participants delved into the essence of sustainability through the lens of Netukulimk, which encapsulates Mi’kmaq sovereign law and advocates for responsible stewardship of natural resources for the prosperity of future generations. Additionally, M’sit No’kmaq underscored the interconnectedness of all living beings and emphasized the importance of gratitude and reverence towards the Creator. The principle of Two-Eyed Seeing, an approach to learning, blending Indigenous knowledge systems with Western knowledge systems.

In the subsequent segment, attendees engaged in a hands-on winter eeling workshop led by James Doucette of Reclaiming Our Roots. Through experiential learning, participants learned traditional techniques of spearing for eel in the mud, while respecting the eel’s role in Mi’kmaq culture and ecosystem. An integral aspect of the workshop was the ceremonial offering of the first catch to the kitpu (Bald Eagle), symbolizing gratitude and reciprocity with the natural world. Participants also learned how to skin and process the eel, preserving ancestral knowledge for future generations.

This project has been created in commemoration of the lives of all the victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, including two Ocean Bridge ambassadors, Danielle Moore and Micah Messent. We aspire to carry on their legacy and commitment to making the world a better place by creating long-lasting impacts with a firm commitment to driving positive change for the environment and our ocean. We will never forget the light that Danielle and Micah brought to the world and will continue to keep them in our hearts. To learn more about these two amazing people, please visit: Honouring Danielle and Micah  – Ocean Wise. This work is partially funded by the Commemoration Fund for Victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Tragedy.

What was your biggest challenge?

Our primary challenge lay in scheduling the eeling workshop, contingent upon unpredictable weather conditions and ice thickness. This task was exacerbated by the increasing unpredictability of our winters, marked by milder temperatures each year.

What was your most valuable takeaway?

Our most valuable takeaway is the profound realization that we are carrying forward ancestral practices, ensuring their continuity for future generations.

Eels hold a deep connection to our culture and even my family. Eels are considered sacred to Mi’kmaw, it is a tradition that people eat eel when they are dying as it smoothens their transition to the spirit world, we also offer eel skins as thanks to the creator or to apuknajit for a less harsh winter. My great-grandfather was an eel harvester from Malagawatch, the way he met my great-grandmother is that he used to travel to the other Mi’kmaq communities selling his eels, so if it wasn’t for eels, my family wouldn’t be here. So the valuable takeaway for me is knowing that these youth will continue the traditions that our ancestors have done for thousands of years.

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