A new children’s book was published this week that tells the story of a Cape Breton eel from a Mi’kmaw perspective. Kataq: Journey of our Eels is written by Angela Denny and Shelley Denny of the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR).
Angela Denny, a Mi’kmaw from the Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton, lives and works along the beautiful Bras d’Or Lakes. In 2006 she began a full-time position at the UINR as a Research Assistant. She works with biologists, natural resource users and Elders, playing an important role in the collection of traditional knowledge. Many hours are spent in the lab, in the field and in various Mi’kmaw communities conducting research on the American eel. Her research has led to the development of booklets, posters and best management practices to help others understand the eel’s amazing life story and the importance of protecting eel habitat.
Shelley Denny is a Mi’kmaw originally from the community of Potlotek, Nova Scotia. Always fascinated with water and the plants and animals that live there, Shelley pursued an education in biology. After graduating in 2005 with a Masters in Science from St. Francis Xavier University, she began her employment with UINR, where she continues to conduct research and gather traditional knowledge on Bras d’Or Lakes species, especially those that are important to the Mi’kmaq for food, social or ceremonial purposes.
“Kataq tells the story of an eel–from its birth as a tiny, leaf-like fry in the southern Sargaso Sea, to a mature silver eel who spent her life in the Bras d’Or Lakes,” Shelley explains. “It is also the story of the importance and significance of the eel in Mi’kmaw culture, tradition and day-to-day life. The eel teaches us to respect our environment and understand our relationship with the world around us.”
The book is in English with side-by-side Mi’kmaw translation by Barbara Sylliboy, a Mi’kmaw educator from Eskasoni First Nation. Employed by the Eskasoni School Board as a Mi’kmaw Language Curriculum Developer for the Ta’n L’Nuey Etl-mawlukwatmumk / Mi’kmaw Curriculum Development Project, Sylliboy is a fluent Mi’kmaq speaker and writer, and in her spare time has worked on the translation of various government documents and the Cape Breton CAP site “Work in Our Time” stories into the Mi’kmaw language.
Well-known artist Arlene Christmas (Dozay) illustrates the story with images she describes as appealing to children and adults alike. “I was able to have the freedom in establishing a character to make our eel a friendly and expressive personality,” says Dozay. “She even wears a medicine bag around her neck as she takes us through her journey.”
Growing up in western New Brunswick on the Tobique Reserve, Dozay spent much of her life cultivating a passion for art. At eighteen, she left the banks of the Tobique River to pursue a formal education at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Although she always displayed an interest in art, her initial intention was to pursue a career in education. It wasn’t until her third year at NSCAD that Dozay decided to switch to the fine arts program and pursue a full-time career as an artist. Dozay has created and displayed her work at galleries and exhibits across the Maritimes, Ontario, Europe, Australia and the United States. You can see her illustrations in several publications.
Single copies of Kataq: Journey of our Eels are available at UINR’s office in Eskasoni. Supply is limited. One free copy per person. Digital copies are available online at uinr.ca
UINR–Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources is Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq voice on natural resources and the environment. UINR represents the five Mi’kmaq communities of Unama’ki in forestry, marine science research, species management, traditional Mi’kmaq knowledge, water quality monitoring, and environmental partnerships.