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Learning to Fish in High School

Miawpukek Mi'kmaq of Conne River (Newfoundland)

Located on the southern coastal waters of Newfoundland in Baie d'Espoir, the Mi'kmaq community of Conne River is nestled among vast forests and mountains. It's easy to understand how nature has been an inspiration to its 800 community members on their journey to economic self-sufficiency.

In the short period of time since Conne River officially was recognized as a status Indian Reserve in 1985, the community has become a model of Indigenous enterprise. It owns and manages several businesses including a flourishing aquaculture (fish hatchery) program, hunting and fishing lodges and a logging operation. The collective community vision is to create economic development guided by traditional values.

Miawpukek Aquaculture stands out as a concrete example of this vision. Using traditional knowledge of the sea, the community created a company that harvests, processes and markets fish at a very high volume. What makes it especially exciting is the involvement of the First Nation high school students of Conne River. They can take 3 levels of courses in salmonid aquaculture at Ste. Anne's School on the reserve. ( A salmonid is a fish of the family Salmonides which includes salmon, trout and char)

The Level I course involves activities that take place at a hatchery (also known as a fish culture station). Students follow the development of the fish from spawning right up to the point at which they are ready to be transported to sea cages. In Level II, students learn all about the grow-out of salmonids, from the transport to the cages until the fish are harvested and processed. Level III is an Enterprise course which focuses on getting the fish ready for market; students complete the course by creating their own business plans.

As student Miles Cornish explains, these courses are exciting because they are not all bookwork, "This afternoon, we will dissect fish (steelhead trout, brook trout, salmon) to learn about the inside parts. Starting next month, we will be going to the local fisheries site to strip the fish: removing the eggs and putting them in an incubation system."

People from the community also make a contribution to the courses Jackie Leclaire from Conne River says, "Guest speakers from the hatchery go in to the classroom to speak to the students. For example, they will show them parts of the fish, or explain how they spawn. Elders who know how to fish tell the students about the many kinds of fish, places they fish and what kinds of fish are plentiful at certain times of the year."

This industry is offering the youth of Conne River a very promising future as Miles Cornish knows, "Aquaculture is rapidly growing in Newfoundland. I want to become very experienced with the business."

The information for this article was obtained through an interview with Jackie Leclaire, Mi'kmaq from Conne River who teaches at the Kahnawake Survival School.

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