The first maps of the Bras d’Or Lakes were carried around in people’s heads: the Mi’kmaq traveled the waters of the Bras d’Or to fish, hunt, gather for celebrations, bury their dead, and honour their ancestors, all at various locations around the watershed.
Before Europeans came to these shores, the Mi’kmaq had family territories. These territories spanned all the island of Cape Breton [“Unama’ki” in Mi’kmaq], and gave every family access to all they required for survival throughout the changing seasons of the year. A change to trade as a way of life, and then concentration in settled communities radically altered the way the Mi’kmaq lived. Yet they preserved their traditions and knowledge the best they could, and passed on the locations of the best fishing areas, places to get plant medicine, etc. to their children.
Today the Bras d’Or Lakes CEPI, Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, and Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife Commission work together to use traditional ecological knowledge to inform modern science and management.
Maps of traditional fishing areas can be combined with new information about bathymetry or water transparency gathered with modern technology to discover why the Bras d’Or Lakes is not as productive as it once was, and help us figure out how to improve conditions.