A Good Feed: reverence for eels as a guiding principle for TEK - Graduate Student presentation at Coastal CURA Conference   April 29, 2011

During 26-29 June 2011, Integrative Science Research Associate Sana Kavanagh (who is enrolled in a Masters graduate program at Dalhousie University) will present on her thesis research at the "People in Places:  Engaging Together in Integrated Resource Management" conference hosted by Coastal CURA at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, NS.  Sana's presentation (see abstract below) is entitled " 'A good feed':  reverence for eels as a guiding principle of traditional ecological knowledge and management among participants in the Mi’kmaq food and ceremonial fishery in Unama’ki, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada".  The conference will focus on the inclusion of resource dependent communities, including Aboriginal communities, in processes of spatial planning, integrated management and natural resource management.  The  conference overarching theme is:  How can place-based communities become better engaged in natural resource integrated management?

ABSTRACT:  Traditional ecological knowledge and management of eels among Mi’kmaq participants in the aboriginal food and ceremonial fishery in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) includes values such as respect and reverence for eels as a source of life. In this presentation, I explore a key theme, “a good feed”, which emerged through qualitative analysis of semi-structured in-depth interviews with 12 community-recommended eel fishery participants, from 4 Mi’kmaq communities. Participants explain that part of their traditional ecological knowledge is self-management, through which they limit the size of their harvest to a “good feed”. According to participants, a “good feed” is enough eels for themselves and sometimes for others to eat, without greed or waste. Examples given by participants show that determining a “good feed” is highly contextual. Similarly, participants explain that they self-manage by limiting waste from their harvest - although they define waste and non-waste in a unique way based on reciprocity. According to participants, reverence is the guiding principle for thinking and acting in the context of the traditional food system such that harvest of eels is reciprocated to the eel or the water - its ecosystem. When they speak about their traditional way of life, participants delineate appropriate and inappropriate ways of fishing for eels and other species. Several participants argue that their practices, based on respect and reverence, have sustained the eel population and their ability to procure eels for food. In contrast, they argue, based on their life experience with different management paradigms, that some other fisheries are both irreverent and unsustainable. Using quotations and thick description, I try to portray the unique cultural perspective on sustainability among these participants and how they link their ecological knowledge, practices, and values.  [Funding for this research was provided by the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science Dr. Cheryl Bartlett at Cape Breton University].