Europeans and others who arrived in North America adopted the idea of taking as much of the natural resources (lumber, minerals, fish, etc.) as they possibly could.
They have continued to do exactly that for hundreds of years thanks to individuals and corporations with the seeds of industrialization and capitalism. What evolved and grew was a long list of examples of this lack of caring or consideration for environmental sustainability. Non-indigenous governments and hunters intentionally killed so many buffalo in North America that there was a distinct possibility they would become extinct; all this while the indigenous people who depended on the buffalo for food went hungry or starved to death.
Even though they were told years before what damage they would do if they used this technique, the non-indigenous fishers of the east coast implemented draggers in the 1890s and yes, that severely depleted a myriad of marine species in record time and damaged the ocean floor as predicted. This was not environmentally sustainable and many people knew it but the government, the extremely wealthy, the corporations and fishers did not listen or care until the damage had been done. Another example is when non-indigenous fishers took the cod stock almost to extinction – the Atlantic fishery abruptly collapsed in 1993, following overfishing since the late-1950s, and an earlier partial collapse in the 1970s. Twenty seven years after the fishing ban was instituted the cod stocks are still struggling to return to sustainable limits. Capitalism is not working for planet Earth.
Europeans and western governments have worked for centuries to oppress and eliminate Indigenous peoples of Canada. The creation of the Indian Act, residential schools, and the “Sixties Scoop” are three significant acts that are evidence of cultural genocide. The attempts of ethnocide throughout history have been continuous since the creation of the “Indian” concept which has been the most harmful to indigenous individuals, families and their cultures. The word “Indian” is more than a category of people – it’s a divisive formula. It does not recognize ethnicity, culture or the ways in which indigenous nations define who their people are.
Many Indigenous people have had to aggressively work towards having government recognition of their nationhood and at huge costs, emotionally, spiritually and financially. A great deal of work is currently being done to publicly educate everyone about Indigenous issues and to fight against using negative stereotypes. More people are speaking out about this issue and using new terminology, so I have been asking myself, “is the mindset actually changing?”
Harvesting a resource almost to extinction doesn’t happen in indigenous communities because they have had firm beliefs in their responsibilities to take only what they need and leave enough for the future. It is based on thousands generations of observation, failures, successes, mistakes and hard won knowledge of life-giving experience that is the base of culture which is therefore so fundamental. This belief in harvesting only what you need is embodied in the Mi’kmaq word Netukulimk. “Braiding Sweetgrass – Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” By Robin Wall Kimmerer is a resource you may find very worthwhile reading.
Here on Unama’ki, the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) operates on the basis of Netukulimk. Netukulimk is defined as the use of the natural bounty provided by Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition, economic and spiritual well-being without jeopardizing the integrity diversity or productivity of the “natural bounty.” The concept and way of living is founded on a number of principles that have been observed and practiced for thousands of generations.
In August 2020 the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs said its members were part of the “Made-in-Nova Scotia Process” when they formalized these principles in writing to enable clarity in this modern age. Each Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia shall have its own plan. Netukulimk livelihood fishery plans must be consistent with the concept of Netukulimk. Netukulimk livelihood fishery plans will emphasize resource conservation, environmental standards and safety.
Fish caught by Mi’kmaq registered members and harvested in compliance with a community plan may be sold, traded, bartered, consumed or donated. Mi’kmaq harvesters fishing under the Netukulimk livelihood fishery plans – net benefits shall go to the harvester and their families but if directed shall give back to the fisheries or community according to their community plan. Opportunities to register under a community livelihood fishery plan will be accessible, transparent and fair for all members of the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. Harvesters fishing under the Netukulimk livelihood fishery shall carry identification and proof of registration under a community plan. Each Mi’kmaw community in Nova Scotia shall administer a system to ensure compliance of harvesters registered under their community Netukulimk livelihood fishery plan. All Netukulimk livelihood fishery harvesters must comply with any plan conditions in relation to species, locations and any other conditions as specified.
As with every indigenous people I have worked with in my lifetime, Mi’kmaq believe they have an inherent right to access and use natural resources and concurrently believe they have a responsibility to use those resources in a sustainable way. The Mi’kmaq way of resource management includes a spiritual element that ties together people, plants, animals, and the environment. UINR’s ability to integrate scientific research with Mi’kmaq knowledge acquisition, utilization, and storage is a strength embodied in Etuaptmumk.
The concept of Etuaptmumk (“Two-eyed Seeing”) has been articulated and taught here on Unama’ki and around the world for decades by Dr. Albert Marshall and Dr. Murdena Marshall of Eskasoni. You can find a great deal more information about Etuaptmumk (“Two-eyed Seeing”) using the great god Google and on YouTube.
The Mi’kmaq have a legally recognized, constitutionally affirmed right to fish for a moderate livelihood. I encourage everyone to learn more about indigenous people and to support this initiative by our indigenous brothers and sisters.