Carrying on the traditional ways

Youth with man in hunting jacket in wooded area. Man holds an animal bone.
With his own quiet confidence and the careful teachings of his father, 12-year-old Piel Ward is carrying on the traditional ways of his Mi’kmaq ancestors.

You may have heard about the Youth Champions program, in Eel Ground First Nation in New Brunswick.  The local school, where the program is housed, has become a hub for a land-based education program that connects children, parents, Elders and knowledge-keepers with one another. Together, the community engages in activities such as hunting and foraging for traditional food and medicine, building and maintaining school and community gardens, participating in parent-child cooking classes, and much more.

Piel with fellow Youth Champions in the Natoageneg Food Centre. (c) Allan Lissner & OCIC.

Nurturing new leaders

Piel Ward is one of the Youth Champions who has enthusiastically participated in the land-based education program and taken on an important role as a community hunter. A soft-spoken 12-year-old, Piel harvested his first moose under the tutelage of his father and in accordance with Indigenous hunting traditions. These include tobacco offerings to the Creator, knowing which animals to hunt and when, respecting the animal by using every part of it and acknowledging the animal’s offering of its life with specific rituals of appreciation.

Carrying on community traditions

Piel has learned how to butcher and prepare the meat, and has demonstrated those skills to other Youth Champions. As part of the Youth Champions program, Piel has learned a lot about good nutrition and the role that wild and traditional food plays in healthy behaviours around food. He’s also taken part in  feasts that bring the community together and celebrate cultural practices unique to the Mi’kmaq people.

Piel serves moose chili at a community meal in the Natoageneg Food Centre. (c) Allan Lissner & OCIC

Piel’s moose provided many meals for the community including a meal of moose chili served by the teens during one of these community feasts.

“When you see the kids volunteering to serve the community meal; working with the Elders to serve them; packing the Fresh for Less boxes; cooking a meal at the Food Centre and putting it out for the community to use; hunting moose to provide for the community; gardening … it’s powerful,” said Chad Duplessie, Eel Ground’s Project Coordinator.

Sustaining a way of life

Chief George Ginnish says that it was not long ago that his people depended on fish and game for nutrition and to survive, but that a lot of families don’t have the ability to fish or to hunt themselves now. Community hunters like Ernie Ward, Piel’s father, are vital to provide food and to nurture the next generation of hunters who can carry on the traditional ways. “It’s important for us that we are doing it in a good way and for the right reasons. We don’t do this for money. We do this for our families, and for our community, so we can all eat,” Ernie explained.

Piel prepares moose for a community meal. (c) Allan Lissner & OCIC.

Charlene Ward, a community volunteer, shares her esteem for young champions of traditional knowledge: “When you see Piel, you can tell it’s part of his soul to absorb all this knowledge. He seems to be the leader in that knowledge sense. The other kids don’t doubt his word. They watch and listen. You don’t see that often in that age group. They all come out of their shell when he does.”

Based on community visits and materials collected as part of Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change, an award-winning collaborative photojournalism project by Ontario Council of International Cooperation and Allan Lissner/Praxis Pictures, and awarded to Canadian Feed The Children in 2018.

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