Trades meet tradition: Welding camp connects Mi'kmaw youth to past

A dozen young people, ages 12-15, are participating in Mind Over Metal, a welding camp that teaches Indigenous youth how to weld items, such as a traditional eel spear, and then put them to use.

4-day camp allows 12 First Nations teens to weld, and wield, their own eel spears

Maya Johnson, second from the left, 12, of Potlotek First Nation, and Bella Paul, 12, far right, from Eskasoni First Nation, were some of the participants at Mind Over Metal camp. (Submitted by Jude Gerrard )

A Mi'kmaw elder in Nova Scotia says a four-day welding camp is helping to connect youth to their Mi'kmaw traditions through modern skilled trades. 

A dozen young people, ages 12-15, participated this week in Mind Over Metal, a welding camp that teaches Indigenous youth how to weld items, such as a traditional eel spear, and then put them to use. 

The top section of an eel spear, modelled after traditional eel spears of the Mi'kmaw. (Submitted by Jude Gerrard)

"[I want] to teach younger people about the traditions we had 50 years ago, to keep these traditions going for the next 20, 25 years," said Joe Googoo Sr. of Waycobah First Nation, who taught the students how to use their handmade eel spears. 

Keeping tradition alive 

Googoo says eel hunting, historically an important resource for the Mi'kmaq, isn't common these days. He's been doing it for 55 years, but says he's one of a few that still harvest eel on his reserve of 1,100 people. 

“[I want] to teach younger people about the traditions we had 50 years ago,” said Joe Googoo Sr. of Waycobah First Nation. (Submitted by Joe Googoo)

He says teaching the youth to carry the tradition is an important piece of reconciliation. 

"Hunting eels has been a Mi'kmaw tradition for centuries," says Googoo.

Maya Johnson, 12, of Potlotek First Nation, is one of four girls in the camp. She said that the thought of melting metal together sounded "cool.

Maya Johnson, right, and Bella Paul wear their safety gloves at the Mind Over Metal camp. (Submitted by Jude Gerrard)

"Like, when you first do it, there's sparks flying in your face," said Johnson. "But then, it was fine after that." 

Johnson had watched people spear eels, but had never done it herself. She said she enjoyed the experience and learned something new. 

"If you see something that looks like a snake, you just throw your spear at it." said Johnson.

Johnson said that she didn't know much about welding before, but after her experience at the camp, she might consider it as a career in her future. 

Camp first of its kind

The camp was held at Strait Area Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College, in Port Hawkesbury. It's part of a program by CWB Welding Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit organization that certifies welders. 

Bella Paul, 12, welds an eel spear at Mind Over Metal camp. (Submitted by Jude Gerrard)

The Mi'kmaq program is the first of its kind in combining traditional teachings with modern trade skills. 

"We thought it was really important that if we bring this camp that [the] Mi'kmaw cultural component be added," said Jude Gerrard, a camp co-ordinator with the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, which funded the camp in part.

Gerrard says that alongside the cultural component, the camp is showing the youth that skilled trades are a viable career despite "systemic" barriers that have restricted employment opportunities for First Nations peoples.

"It's a great piece of reconciliation," said Gerrard. 

"With the government, apprenticeship agency and the community college working together to help pass on those skills to future generations ... this goes a long way to help improve the economic prosperity within our communities."