Engaging Mi’gmaq Youth

September 4, 2014

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”

When the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council(GMRC)proposed a project entitled Engaging Mi’gmaq Youth on Atlantic Salmon, a saying like this one might have been on their minds.

An interprovincial endeavour involving communities in northeastern New Brunswick and Québec’s Gaspé region, the project received a $13,000 ASCF grant in 2013 for two main initiatives aimed at teaching children in the region about salmon’s importance in their heritage.

The first initiative, “Calling Back the Salmon,” is an educational curriculum for Grade 7 and 8 students. Developed by a Mi’gma’gi, Marsha Vicaire, the course includes both Mi’gmaq culture and western scientific teachings, and is meant to help students to identify more closely with the traditional natural resources around them.

“Course materials, including teaching notes, worksheets and posters will be ready to introduce into the 2014-2015 curriculum at the Alaqsite’w Gitpu School in Listuguj, Québec,” says Denny Isaac, environmental manager with GMRC.

“Once the program has been offered in Listuguj, our plan is to introduce it in other schools in the region. We hope that it could eventually become the basis for curriculum at schools in other watershed areas similar to ours.”

The second initiative is the introduction of the popular “Fish Friends” program into three elementary schools in the region.

“With its hands-on approach, the Fish Friends is a wonderful way to familiarize younger children with the wild Atlantic salmon’s life cycle and history, and to get them thinking about conservation at an early age,”says Isaac.

The program was introduced in the spring of 2013, when staff from GMRC and volunteer Roland Lavalee, a retired biology teacher and a long-time volunteer with the NB Salmon Council, began working with three schools: theAlaqsite’w Gitpu School in Listuguj, the L.E. Reinsborough school in Dalhousie, NB, and the Terry Fox Elementary school in Bathurst, NB. Incubators and chillers were installed, lesson plans at the Grades 3 and 5 level were developed, and educational sessions were given.

“We also scheduled two guest speakers for the classes,” says Isaac. “Elder Gilbert Sewell from Pabineau First Nation talked about Mi’gmaq local knowledge and history, and the relationship between the Mi’gmaq and the salmon, while I made a presentation on salmon from the Western scientific angle.

“The program was a huge success!” says Isaac. “The highlight was the June field trip to release the fry hatched and grown in the classrooms, of course.”

The students and teachers from all three schools along with Elder Sewell, Roland Lavalee, and GMRC representatives and volunteers, gathered at the Pabineau First Nation community, where some 900 fry were released into the Nepisiguit River. Following the release, a luncheon was served and stories were shared.

“The kids just soaked it in,” says Isaac.“We have received numerous phone calls and emails asking if the program is going to continue.”

And so it will. Preparation for the 2014 Fish Friends program began in November 2013, and all was ready to go by February, 2014. With Fish Friends well established in the region’s schools, Denny Isaac and his GMRC educational team can hardly wait to introduce “Calling Back the Salmon” next September.

“We really hope that by educating our children, the future of wild Atlantic salmon, and our other traditional natural resources, will be in good hands.”