Oceans are not only an important part of our lives, but our livelihood. As we look to build the ocean economy for the benefit of all Canadians, there is a balance we must achieve, a respect we must demonstrate, and a commitment to sustainability we must employ.
The ocean has helped sustain us for generations. As we build our ocean economy, it’s up to us to do it in a way that helps mitigate risks and allows us to contribute to ocean health, so it continues to sustain those generations to come.
From time immemorial, Indigenous communities have had a strong presence and bond to the Oceans. This relationship is all encompassing and cannot be described with traditional boundaries. For instance, the Mi’kmaq are stewards of the marine environment for their ancestral home of Mi’kma’ki (the entire Atlantic region in Canada).
By referring to the ways of Msit-No’kmaw (“All my Relations”), it is understood that every living and non-living being must be treated with respect. All beings whether they are on land, freshwater or oceans are interconnected. This can be explained by observing the life cycle of diadromous fish, such as the Atlantic Salmon and the American Eel, which are an important species for the Mi’kmaq.
Indigenous involvement in fisheries, whether it be for commercial or ceremonial purposes are important for sustaining communities and livelihoods.
However, it is also understood that a balanced approach is needed to ensure this relationship between people and the marine environment can continue in the future. By practicing Netukulimk, the Mi’kmaq take only what is needed from the environment. Integral to this worldview is the responsibility of not harming or damaging the environment for the sake of the next seven generations. Netukulimk is not only a way of being, it serves as guiding principle for practicing sustainability.
The oceans also have a great cultural significance to Indigenous peoples. Legends and stories passed down orally from generation to generation offer knowledge about the marine environment. From the Mi’kmaq creation story to travel routes providing access to the Bay of Fundy, there are lessons and cultural practices that revolve around the oceans. Indigenous Knowledge offers a wholistic perspective, one that supports sustainability.
By practicing Etuaptmumk (“Two-Eyed Seeing”), two worldviews, western science and Indigenous Knowledge, can be brought together to develop best practices. The “Two-Eyed Seeing” approach gives the opportunity to build relationships, as well as integrate wholistic perspectives with science-based techniques.
We know when we come together and collaborate we may bring together different ideas, insights, and experience, but this only increases the opportunity for innovation. I look forward to continued, and even more, “Two Eyed Seeing” as we begin to realize this kind of collaborative innovation and work together toward sustainable ocean growth.