Philosophies of Resources

Europeans and others who arrived in North America adopted the idea of taking as much of the natural resources (lumber, minerals, fish, etc.) as they possibly could. They have continued to do exactly that for hundreds of years, thanks to individuals and corporations and the forces industrialization and capitalism. What evolved and grew was a long list of examples of a lack of caring or consideration for environmental sustainability. Non-Indigenous governments and hunters intentionally killed so many buffalo in North America that there was a distinct possibility they would become extinct. All this, while the Indigenous people who depended on the buffalo for food went hungry or starved to death.

By SMU Central University Libraries [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

By SMU Central University Libraries [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Even though they were told years before what damage they would do if they used this technique, the non-Indigenous fishers of the east coast introduced draggers in the 1890s and, as predicted, severely depleted myriad marine species in record time and damaged the ocean floor. This was not environmentally sustainable, and many people knew it, but the government, the extremely wealthy, the corporations and fishers did not listen or care until the damage had been done. Another example: when non-Indigenous fishers took the cod stock almost to extinction — the Atlantic fishery abruptly collapsed in 1993, following overfishing since the late-1950s, and an earlier partial collapse in the 1970s. Twenty-seven years after the fishing ban was instituted, the cod stocks are still struggling to return to sustainable limits.

Capitalism is not working for planet Earth.


Europeans and Western governments have worked for centuries to oppress and eliminate the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The creation of the Indian Act, residential schools and the “Sixties Scoop” are three significant acts that are evidence of cultural genocide. Attempts at ethnocide have been continuous since the creation of the concept of “Indian,” a concept which has been harmful to Indigenous individuals, families and their cultures.

The word “Indian” is more than a category of people – it’s a formula for division. It does not recognize ethnicity, culture or the ways in which Indigenous nations define their own people. Many Indigenous people have had to work aggressively — and at huge costs, emotionally, spiritually and financially — towards government recognition of their nationhood. A great deal of work is currently being done to educate the public about Indigenous issues and to fight against negative stereotypes. More people are speaking out about this issue and using new terminology, so I have been asking myself, “is the mindset actually changing?”

Harvesting a resource almost to extinction doesn’t happen in Indigenous communities because they have a firm belief in their responsibility to take only what they need and leave enough for the future. It is a mindset based upon thousands of generations of observation, failures, successes, mistakes and the hard-won knowledge of life-giving experience which is why it is so fundamental to the culture. This belief in harvesting only what you need is embodied in the Mi’kmaq word “Netukulimk.” (Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a resource on the subject you may find worthwhile reading.)


Here on Unama’ki, the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) operates on the basis of Netukulimk, defined as the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community, a state achieved through adequate standards of community nutrition, economic and spiritual well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the “natural bounty.”

The concept and way of living is founded on a number of principles that have been observed and practiced for thousands of generations. In August 2020, as explained in a recent Halifax Examiner piece by Joan Baxter and Linda Pannozzo, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs said its members were part of the “Made-in-Nova Scotia Process’ discussions when they formalized these principles in writing to enable clarity in this modern age:

Each Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia shall have its own Netukulimk livelihood fishery plan. Netukulimk livelihood fishery plans must be consistent with the concept of Netukulimk. Netukulimk livelihood fishery plans will emphasize resource conservation, environmental standards and safety.

Fish caught by Mi’kmaq registered members and harvested in compliance with a community plan may be sold, traded, bartered, consumed or donated. For Mi’kmaq harvesters fishing under the Netukulimk livelihood fishery plans, net benefits go to the harvesters and their families but if directed, shall give back to the fisheries or community according to each community’s plan.

Opportunities to register under a community livelihood fishery plan will be accessible, transparent and fair for all members of the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. Harvesters fishing under the Netukulimk livelihood fishery shall carry identification and proof of registration under a community plan. Each Mi’kmaw community in Nova Scotia shall administer a system to ensure compliance of harvesters registered under their community Netukulimk livelihood fishery plan. All Netukulimk livelihood fishery harvesters must comply with any plan conditions in relation to species, locations and any other conditions as specified.

As with every Indigenous people I have worked with in my lifetime, the Mi’kmaq believe they have an inherent right to access and use natural resources and, concurrently, that they have a responsibility to use those resources in a sustainable way. The Mi’kmaq way of resource management includes a spiritual element that ties together people, plants, animals and the environment. UINR’s ability to integrate scientific research with Mi’kmaq knowledge acquisition, utilization, and storage is a strength embodied in the concept of “Etuaptmumk” or “Two-eyed Seeing.” Etuaptmumuk has been articulated and taught here on Unama’ki and around the world for decades by Dr. Albert Marshall and Dr. Murdena Marshall of Eskasoni. You can find a great deal more information about Etuaptmumk using the great god Google and on YouTube.

The Mi’kmaq have a legally recognized, constitutionally affirmed right to fish for a moderate livelihood. I encourage everyone to learn more about Indigenous people and to support this initiative by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Inverness Oran.


Paul Strome

Paul Strome worked 12 years as an educator in the Northwest Territories/Nunavut where he experienced the culture, language and geographic parameters of Indigenous people. He has petitioned the government at every opportunity to bring about the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. As an elder and David Suzuki Ambassador he has championed the Blue Dot Movement in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) and in recent years was the Atlantic regional representative for the Council of Canadians.