For Mi'kmaq, hunting moose is 'the heart and soul of what the Creator has designed'
Hunters in Cape Breton share meat with elders, single parents and families on social assistance
At 21 years old, Blake Christmas has already been hunting moose for a decade throughout Cape Breton, sharing the meat with Mi'kmaq elders, single parents and families on social assistance.
"When I bring the moose meat, they light up," Christmas said while on a walk Tuesday near Caribou Marsh, just outside Sydney. "They're so thankful for it and it makes me feel warm inside."
The tradition of moose hunting is passed down from elder Mi'kmaq hunters, like Clifford Paul, a moose management co-ordinator at Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources.
"This is the heart and soul of what the Creator has designed, for us to be participants within this ecosystem, for us to use ceremony, honour and respect," Paul said. "For me, this is telling me I am doing the right thing."
'Balance of the ecosystem'
According to legend, Indigenous people promised the moose they would hunt it with love in their hearts, treat it with respect, share it with people in need and harvest all its part, he said. That promise is at the core of the hunt, which in turn maintains the forest's biodiversity and environment for the moose, Paul said.
For the last two years Paul has organized the moose hunt in a small part of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Parks Canada has said 15 years of research showed reducing the moose population saved forest vegetation.
Even so, the park-sanctioned moose cull has been met by protesters.
'Savannas of grass'
The moose trample vegetation, impeding the natural regrowth of the forest, Paul said. They create "savannas of grass" where there should be a vibrant boreal forest that regularly regenerates, he said.
While non-Indigenous hunters may think it's good to have lots of moose, Paul said the biodiversity is essential to maintain for all mammals, like thrush, bobcat, pine marten and lynx, as well as moose.
"The Mi'kmaq are more concerned with the balance of the ecosystem," he said.
Christmas is now passing on his knowledge to new hunters in his community.
"It's not something you'd sit down in class and write a test on," he said. "It's something that you just over time you develop a skill and apply respect to it."
Christmas harvested his first moose for the Membertou powwow. It was a big bull that walked onto the road as the sun was coming up.
"I was shaking from head to toe," he said.
The "very satisfying" feeling of bringing back the animal to feed the community is what motivates him to keep up the practice, he said.
"Passing it down, it's very important, keeping our traditions alive," Christmas said.
With files from Gary Mansfield