Eagle rescue spiritual experience for Island Mi'kmaq man
Junior Peter-Paul says holding the injured bird in his arms brought him closer to his deceased mother
"All I can say is, I felt close to my mom. It felt good."
Junior Peter-Paul gets emotional talking about his part in helping rescue an injured eagle in Bedford, P.E.I. late last month. The eagle is revered in Mi'kmaq culture. It's also a bird that Peter-Paul has always associated with his late mother, who died 47 years ago when Peter-Paul was still a boy.
"In my many years of seeing eagles flying around in the sky, to me when I see one it's like: my mom is visiting me," Peter-Paul said. "A lot of times when I see the eagle I'll say, 'Oh you're here, mom' or 'Good day mom' or 'I'm glad you're here.'"
It was his daughter, Melissa Peter-Paul, who was driving when she came across the injured bird hopping across the road. She pulled over to check on the eagle and immediately called her father for support.
'Highly respected animal'
"It's not every day that you get to see an eagle up that close," Melissa Peter-Paul said. "It's such a highly respected animal in our culture, we always look to the eagle for guidance and to be with us on our journey, so as this crossed my path, I knew this was something that was meant to be."
Melissa Peter-Paul sat with the eagle in a nearby field until her father arrived, coincidentally around the same time as a provincial conservation officer.
The group approached the injured bird with gloves and a net, and once captured, Junior Peter-Paul asked whether he could be the one to carry the eagle to the officer's truck for transport to the Atlantic Veterinary College. He said on the day of the rescue, he felt more connected than ever to his mother. And he felt an instant bond with the bird.
"I had it in both arms, his chest and my chest together," Peter-Paul said. "I was so excited my heart was beating fast, but after a few steps I could feel the eagle's heart calming down and I was calmed down. He would glance over, look at me once in a while, and it felt like we knew each other for a long time."
Upon admission at AVC, a hairline fracture was discovered on one of the eagle's digits, along with a large scab around the area. After a series of tests and procedures, the bird is being fed, monitored and is on antibiotics to fight infection. It could be weeks still before it's clear how well the area — attached to primary flight feathers — will heal.
In the days that followed the rescue, Junior Peter-Paul felt a feeling of loss after being separated from the eagle, so a special visit was arranged with the AVC.
"I had that eagle in my heart too much, wondering how it is doing and when am I going to see her again," Peter-Paul said. "So today it just made it special for me, to be able to see the eagle again and knowing that the eagle is doing fine."
"I'm just happy to see it today," he said.
A lesson in Mi'kmaq culture
For staff at the Atlantic Veterinary College, the recovering eagle, and its connection with Junior Peter-Paul, has been a lesson in Mi'kmaq culture.
"It's really interesting to see the connection that First Nations people have with eagles," says Fiep de Bie, a wildlife technician with the AVC.
"It has been nice to talk to an elder about this and see what it means to them."
She said Junior Peter-Paul has been in touch regularly, checking in on the injured eagle.
"He has been — and we're not always giving updates to everyone — but we also know how important it is, therefore we granted a visit today."
Junior Peter-Paul intends to go fishing soon, and bring the eagle some fresh trout to help speed its recovery. He said he's optimistic the eagle will recover from its injury and when it is ready to be released, he plans to be a part of it, and hold a special smudging ceremony.
"I'd just like to say to everybody, if you ever see an injured bird or animal, please take action right away," Peter-Paul said.
"Let's take care of our animals, to protect them because they protect us."