Today is Treaty Day, marking 255 years since the signing of the 1752 treaty by our ancestors ensuring our rights to fish and hunt for generations and generations. Today I want to discuss “Sustainability, Cultural preservation, and respecting our treaty rights when hunting and fishing”. I am a true believer of these rights and that these rights must be protected, I also believe in conservation and sustainability. Sometimes our rights, get clouded and mixed up with political or social issues and one in particular that I think has prevented our tribe from being pursued is the Seal hunt. There may a few reasons why this opportunity has not been addressed was at one time an important and staple contribution to our food supply. Now days I never hear anyone say that they just had a feast of seal, cacamo, seal soup, a stuffed seal heart, etc. In fact, I have only met one Mi’kmaq family that still cooks seal as part of their diet. “The Mi’kmaq locative suffix -akadi,-akwadik shows up in regional place names like
I bring up the seal hunt now because I read in the news only five days ago, Prime Minister Stephan Harper defending the hunt when he was being harped by animal rights activists while attending an international conference on environment in
“When asked why
In August, 1994, author and historian Daniel N. Paul wrote his stance on the seal hunt in the Halifax Herald. He wrote the following:
“Me thinks the time has come for us to manage the fisheries and the seal population for the good of the majority of our people, rather than trying to do so in response to the demands of special interests groups. This is 1994 not 1497, a time when the Atlantic fisheries seemed inexhaustible and the need to conserve was unheard of. The human population of the world has increased a hundredfold or more since then, and the need for us to responsibly manage and conserve vital food resources has become critical. In this context, the need to feed ourselves takes precedence over the needs of large herds of insatiable predators.
If it wasn't happening, it would be impossible for me to believe that responsible people would stand by in this time of world food shortages and allow the destruction of a valuable and renewable food resource by permitting the unchecked growth of the Grey-Seal herd. This animal is a veritable eating machine with very few natural enemies. To put on its blubber, it needs to consume vast quantities of fish and thus must almost constantly feed. Caused by the federal government's cancellation of the annual seal hunt, in answer to the demands of special-interests groups, its population has increased to the point where it is in the process of becoming the top consumer of fish in the Atlantic region.
Now, in an effort to regain control of the situation, there is talk of trying to reduce the seal population by the use of birth control. Try as I might, knowing the vastness of the North Atlantic, I can't visualize the animals voluntarily gathering in a specific location for the purpose of lining up to participate in birth control efforts. But then I suppose, in the minds of dreamers, anything is possible.
Give us a break! There are tens of thousands of people out of work in the fisheries who are in desperate need of employment. Surely, there must be a way to begin a harvest of these animals that will be both conducive to creating employment for our unemployed while at the same time conserving the animal in acceptable numbers and providing relief for fish stocks.
How about using them as a food source? I have never tasted the flesh of a seal; however, the ancient Micmac did utilize products from the animal for their survival. In the 17th century, Nicholas Denys wrote this about the people's dietary habits:
"There was formerly a much larger number of Indians than at present. They lived without care, and never ate either salt or spice. They drank only good soup, very fat. It was this that made them live long and multiply much.
They often ate fish, especially seals to obtain the oil.... and they ate the whale, which frequently came ashore on the coast, especially the blubber on which they made good cheer. Their greatest liking is for grease; they ate as one does bread, and drink it liquid!"
The before-mentioned indicates that the seal's flesh is potable and that people can acquire a taste for it - the same as they do, in the course of time, for other new products. The flesh of the animal, based upon its fish diet, should be very nutritious. With imagination, many other diverse uses for products from the animal's carcass can be found - pet food, for instance.
Now comes the part that gets many people up in arms, the slaughter of the beast. How to do it in a humane manner is the question. The method we settle upon must be a method that vastly improves upon the way its natural enemy, the shark, does it. The shark in a feeding frenzy virtually eats the beast alive! Given our skills in inventing methods to kill one another, finding a humane method to slaughter the seal, in this age of space exploration and advanced technology, should not be an insurmountable problem.
There is a natural resource waiting here to be developed and harnessed. In this area of high unemployment and lost hope, can we afford to continue to ignore it?
Daniel N. Paul
“In the past, the Mi'kmaq spent most of the year along the sea coast, taking advantage of the wealth of food available there throughout all but about six weeks of the year. Fish of all kinds, including salmon and sturgeon, plus porpoises, whales, walrus, seals, lobster, squid, shellfish, eels and seabirds with their eggs made up the bulk of their diet. They also ate moose, caribou, beaver and porcupine, as well as smaller animals, like squirrels. Berries, roots and edible plants were gathered during the summer. Meat and fish were dried and smoked to preserve them.”
It seems the more we have become displaced from our traditional lifestyle and diet the more prevalent we witness the incidence of diabetes, cancers, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and the list goes on and on. It seems no matter what disease, sickness we see today, the underlying cause is often related to some lack of certain vitamins, minerals or an excess of another that has contributed to an illness. For example, heart disease is often associated with long term cholesterol problems, sodium aggravates high blood pressure, a sugar imbalance is potentially hazardous for someone with diabetes, and arthritis and many other illnesses can be prevented or minimized early in life with proper nutrition.
I read one day that 90 per cent of society lacks the minimum daily recommended amount of vitamin c and as a result, much of western society suffers from this vitamin deficiency. This form of malnutrition is especially true for impoverished families. I guess this would mean we’re on top of that list. This can have serious consequences to one’s health. I find this so ironic considering a serious lack of this vitamin deficiency is better known as scurvy. Whoa, now I find that ironic and just boggles my mind! How have we reduced our dietary lifestyle from eating the most nutritional, healthiest and delicate foods on earth to becoming so malnourished anyways? So what consequences I wonder can omitting seal from our lifestyle have on our people?
First, I think we should examine how consuming seal was viewed in our culture and examining what nutritional values can one gain from re-entering seal meat, seal oil, etc in today’s diet. I contacted Mi’kmaq author and historian Daniel N. Paul for permission to publish some information this heritage cookbook project from his book titled “We Were Not the Savages” and his website, in the submission he discusses his view of the seal hunt and how seal was viewed in our culture and diet. I feel this contribution is quite significant and of utmost importance. I also wrote to a doctor who works in the seal oil industry and asked him for his opinion on knowledge on possible benefits we can gain by re-introducing seal to our aboriginal diets. I wanted to understand the science why our ancestors celebrated so gleefully with the seal feast. I have even read Mi’kmaq legends when Glooscap took great appreciation for cacamo, this seal soup which seems like a vitamin enriched delicacy provides a feeling of wellness and great health.
Here is a sample from the first page of the 2nd Chapter of Dan Paul's
Book "We Were Not the Savages". I would like to thank Daniel N. Paul for his contribution to
The Mi'kmaq Heritage Cook book project and his valuable insight, work and
contribution to the Mi'kmaq Nation.
Mi'kmaq Social Values and Economy
The pre-Columbian Mi’kmaq were a nomadic people who moved from place to place in harmony with the seasonal migrations of fish, game and fowl.These provided the principal components of their diets, supplemented by some farming. Their food supply was bountiful, dependable and extremely healthy, and materials needed to construct snug wigwams and make clothing suited to the changing seasons were readily available. They were not wanting.
Because of the communal nature of the society and the abundance of food, poverty among the People was virtually unknown. Material things, other than clothing and household goods, were shared equally. Thus the old, sick, infirm and otherwise disadvantaged were protected from destitution. Endowed with a high level of personal security, the People had a relatively low level of stress in their lives. This, combined with a healthy diet, blessed them with unusually long lifespans; centenarians were not rare. Comparing their comfortable and serene lifestyles with the hardships then being endured by much of the world’s other peoples, one must conclude that the Mi’kmaq were very well off.
Denys, who wrote after the Mi’kmaq population had undergone a substantial decline, describes their dietary habits:
There were formerly a much larger number of Indians than at present. They lived without care, and never ate either salt or spice. They drank only good soup, very fat. It was this that made them live long and multiply much. They often ate fish, especially seals to obtain the oil, as much for greasing themselves as for drinking; and they ate the Whale which frequently came ashore on the coast, especially the blubber on which they made good cheer. Their greatest liking is for grease; they ate as one does bread, and drink it liquid.1
“Cacamo” was their greatest delicacy. In order to make it, the women:
made the rocks red hot… collected all the bones of the Moose, pounded them with rocks upon another larger, reducing them to powder; then they placed them in their kettle and made them boil well. This brought out a grease that rose to the top of the water, and they collected it with a wooden spoon. They kept the bones boiling until they yielded nothing more, and with such success that from the bones of one Moose, without counting the marrow, they obtained five to six pounds of grease as white as snow, and as firm as wax. It was this which they used as their entire provision for living when they went hunting. We call it Moose butter; they Cacamo.2
Now Here is a letter from Dr. Cosmas Ho MD
I would like to thank Dr. Cosmas Ho MD from taking the time to write and address our concerns. For more information on him and his seal oil products, visit his website below or better yet you can read his book, that is listed in his site. I hope you enjoy his article.
In today’s society, our human diet is vastly different from our ancestors, where hunting, fishing and gathering of foods was an important part of their lifestyle. This was the way of life for Traditional Mi’Kmaq Indians, whose daily diet consisted of such delicacies as seal, moose, caribou, fish, and vegetables; dating back to 11,000 years prior to the first European contact in the early 17th Century. Over the centuries, due to changing lifestyles and need for convenience, our society began to abandon these traditional ways of attaining food. This resulted in a lower consumption of fish and other marine mammals such as the seal. Due to our fast lifestyle and fast food, our diet has dramatically changed for the worse. Consequently, our diet should have a balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3, at a ratio of 1:1; instead it shows a ratio of 20:1. This has resulted in a deficiency of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s), which are important “essential” fatty acids for overall human health and development. Though Omega 3 is present at birth it is not made by the human body, thus requiring us to obtain it from another food source. Seal is relatively high in these long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, according to research done by Hoppner, et al. (J. Am. Diet Assoc., 1978, Sep; 73 (3):257-60).
Due to the high deficiency in Omega 3 fatty acids in our diet today, the medical profession has seen an increase in diseases such as, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation), crohn’s disease (inflammation), cancer, depression, and even learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).Research has shown that 68% of people die from just these conditions that involve fatty degeneration (cardiovascular disease (43.0%), cancer (22.4%), and diabetes (1.8%)). Unfortunately many of these deaths are due to poor eating habits. Overall, scientific studies have shown that this essential fatty acid deficiency is seen as the leading cause of 50 westernized degenerative diseases. A study by Bjarnason revealed that the incidence of breast cancer increased as
This being said, the information and vast knowledge I have gained from my intensive review and research into the health benefits of the Omega 3 fatty acids, plus clinical observations and patient feedback, has led me to believe that regular daily consumption of the Omega 3 fatty acids from seal oil is far superior to that derived from finfish or any other food source. The Omega 3 PUFA’s in seal oil is nature’s ideal blend of EPA, DHA, and DPA, with the exception of DPA which is high in human breast milk. These essential fatty acids play a vital role in maintaining the integrity and fluidity of the membranes that surrounds human cells, protecting them from free radical damage.
The EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) present in seal oil reduces inflammation and blood clots within the cardiovascular system. Those with diets rich in EPA are less inclined to develop such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, crohn’s disease, lupus, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and skin disorders. While the DHA (docorahexaenoic acid) is an essential building block of the brain, nerve and eye tissue, it is essential in developing an infant’s visual acuity and motor skills. Research has proven that seal oil is very rich in DHA. With regards to DPA (docorapentaenoic acid), it is only found in significant amounts in seal oil and nursing mother’s breast milk. It is as important as EPA or DHA and is an effective agent in blood vessel walls. Researchers in
We are all natural biological organisms; therefore we must not only attain, but maintain and regain good health through natural approaches, diet and lifestyles in keeping with the biology that “nature” genetically built into us. I have always maintained that diet is one of the primary factors to achieving and staying healthy. Through my years of intensive research and study, I firmly believe that seal oil/meat is the best source of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the world today. Whether these essential fatty acids (EPA, DHA, and DPA) are taken from the natural food source of seal oil or meat, like our ancestors did, or supplement form, it is an excellent contributor to attaining and maintaining good health at any age.
Dr. Cosmas Ho MD