Carcass will be blessed by the Mi’kmaq and used to educate public about lead bullets
It took four years, but the eagle has landed with a local non-profit group.
The Port Morien Wildlife Association received permission from the province to have an eagle carcass taxidermized which will be blessed in a ceremony in Membertou on Friday, on behalf of the Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia.
Association officials say the eagle will be used to educate the public on the effects of lead poisoning and to share the culture, beliefs and heritage of the Mi’kmaq people.
“We worked very diligently and we pulled off the impossible,” said Jeff McNeil, president of the wildlife association. “We were told ‘no’ by the province for an entire year.”
In 2014, the wildlife association was in contact with Dr. Helene Van Doninck and learned about the effects lead ammunition has on wildlife. Van Doninck, who died of cancer in August 2018, was the founder of the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Brookfield, Colchester County, where she opened an enclosure for bald eagles — the only one of its kind in Canada.
McNeil said when a hunter uses lead ammunition to kill an animal, the lead is left behind in the gut piles and eaten by eagles and other wildlife.
Van Doninck was invited to Cape Breton by the wildlife association to make presentations about the impact of lead shot, bullets and fishing tackle on water fowl and birds of prey, and to discuss non-lead alternatives for both hunters and anglers.
At one point in 2017, Van Doninck had seven eagles at the centre being treated for lead poisoning as a result of eating remains of animals killed by hunters using lead bullets.
In Nova Scotia, an individual is not permitted to have an eagle carcass because the bird is a protected species.
McNeil said the association had been working since 2015 to get permission from the province for an eagle carcass, believing the visual would help with educational presentations.
The association reached out to We'koqma'q Chief Rod Googoo, who is also the lead in Lands, Wildlife and Forestry with the Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs of Nova Scotia, and received a letter of support.
Although turned down repeatedly by the province, the association never gave up, researching policies, regulations and laws regarding the eagle. Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry eventually granted permission and the association received the carcass of an eagle that hit a power line in Howie Centre and was killed.
The association contacted Jeff Ward, manager of the Membertou Heritage Park, to host a ceremony to bless the eagle carcass. Due to the significance of the eagle to the Mi’kmaq people, McNeil said it was fitting to have a ceremony on First Nations land with the people who supported them on the project and to give the eagle a respectful sendoff.
“We wanted this done in a respectful way because of the cultural significance to the Mi’kmaq people.”
McNeil said as a result of his research he discovered this would be the first time in Atlantic Canada where an entire bald eagle is being blessed by the Mi’kmaq people for a non-native association. Even searching the rest of Canada all he could find is blessings and presentations of eagle feathers and talons.
Department of Lands and Forestry
Officials with the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry say it is illegal to possess an eagle carcass without a permit.
Terrance Power, a biologist with Lands and Forestry, said the department has had a long and co-operative relationship with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia in providing eagle carcasses and eagle parts to the Mi’kmaq for religious and ceremonial purposes.
Power said typically a deceased eagle is only provided to another person or group for educational or scientific purposes.
“We were approached by the Port Morien Wildlife Association for this special initiative to increase awareness of the need to reduce lead bullets shot in the environment — for the benefit of eagles, other wildlife and people,” he said. “We are pleased to provide an eagle carcass for this important program and to support their efforts through the Habitat Conservation Fund, which is funded by hunters and trappers.”
A first in Nova Scotia
We’koqma’q Chief Rod Googoo said as far as he knows this will be the first time an entire eagle is blessed by the Mi’kmaq for a non-native association in Nova Scotia and probably the Atlantic region.
“I don’t know about the rest of Canada but I do know for sure it’s a first in Nova Scotia.”
Googoo said McNeil approached him about obtaining an eagle to teach about the Mi’kmaq culture and customs and in educating on lead poisoning.
“I signed a letter off in assisting him in getting that eagle.”
This is an example of native and non-native communities working together on conservation and wildlife projects, which is a wonderful story in itself, he said.
Googoo, who also works with the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, was their keynote speaker last year.
“It shows we can all work together regardless of our race or customs.”
Last year, Googoo held a hunters symposium.
“Once we saw how dangerous it was not only to wildlife but also the public, our hunters got rid of our lead ammunition.”
Googoo said some of the lead also goes into the meat that is taken home and fed to families.
“We sort of decided then and there — without any kind of law coming in place — that our hunters would give up the lead ammunition and go to steel copper covered.”
“The eagle was always a strong symbol to the Mi’kmaq communities of their spirituality. The eagle always plays an important role in their ceremonies, eagle headdresses to the dancers, eagle feathers in their regalia.
“It plays a very important role, more so than any other animal I know of.”
Googoo said he’s looking forward to the ceremony on Friday.
“It’s going to be a very important event for all of us.”
McNeil said the association also contacted and invited Murdo Messe, the late Van Doninck’s husband, to Friday’s ceremony.
“We found this was a fitting tribute to the cause that Helen had started.”
McNeil said this project included a lot of in-kind donations but would have cost more than $5,000.
Partners include Steve MacDonald of First-Class Taxidermy in Antigonish, Mill Creek Cabinets of North Sydney, Sam’s Auto Glass and Terry Smith All-Teck Environmental Services.