A new children’s book will be launched by Cape Breton University Press on Thursday, January 20, with a special community event at Mi’kmawey School, Potlotek, beginning at 11 a.m. Printed in Mi’kmaq and English, Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters (Muin aqq L’uiknek Te’sijik Ntuksuinu’k) is a very old Mi’kmaw legend, brought to life by Mi’kmaw Elders Lillian Marshall and Murdena Marshall, along with Dr. Cheryl Bartlett, Prune Harris, Sana Kavanagh and Kristy Read of Cape Breton University’s Integrative Science initiative.
The story follows the annual pattern of movement, as seen by humans, in the position of a group of stars around the North Star. These stars are known by different names in different cultures. The Mi’kmaq call the grouping “Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters.” Modern-day astronomers recognize this area of the sky as the constellation Ursa Major, an old name based on the prominent “Great Bear” pattern of stars within it. Many people today are familiar with the Big Dipper, which forms the hind quarters of Muin, the Bear, and three of the hunters.
This version of Muin was created for electronic presentations to school and community groups, as well as on the Internet, during the 2009 United Nations International Year of Astronomy, including Aboriginal astronomy. Its creators immediately recognized the value of creating a bilingual book as well, so that readers of all ages and cultures can become more familiar with this beautiful and educational Mi’kmaw legend.
Aboriginal astronomy – stories in the sky – recognizes that the stars are our calendar, that the changing positions of the star patterns in the heavens reflect the patterns of the seasons on the earth. Legends are woven around such observations. In the case of Ursa Major, trailed by stars that form a permanent pattern in our northern skies, the legend follows Muin the Black Bear, who leaves her den in spring “when the sun awakens the sleeping earth,” and “goes down to the ground in search of food,” trailed by seven birds common to our climate.
Lillian Marshall and Murdena Marshall are highly respected Elders from from Potlotek (Chapel Island) and Eskasoni First Nations, respectively. Lillian is devoted to Aboriginal education, working within a small, dynamic team in her home community to develop innovative learning and educational materials.
Murdena, retired from her position as Associate Professor of Mi’kmaw Studies at Cape Breton University, continues to be highly active in projects locally, regionally and nationally. She has devoted her life to encouraging young people to explore their culture and the nature around them. The Integrative Science program, under Dr. Cheryl Bartlett at Cape Breton University, represents the vision that Murdena, her husband Albert, Dr. Bartlett and others have with respect to including and acknowledging Aboriginal understandings alongside Western science.
Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters (Muin aqq L’uiknek Te’sijik Ntuksuinu’k) is available in stores.