Eagles on the Bras d’Or
Story by Chief Charlie Dennis
This is a personal observation from information gathered over the years while talking to some of the hunters from Unama’ki.
Hunters observe that the number of eagle feathers found along the shoreline around the Bras d’Or Lakes have declined. Most of the eagle feathers that are collected by feather catchers for ceremonial purposes are coming from the Unama’ki Highlands, and some from the Margaree River. This change stems from the changes in fish population over the last few years. I know Malagawatch used to be the number one place to catch herring but, over the last few years the herring have declined. Some of the other species, such as ground fish, have also declined. No food–then probably no eagles.
In the spring time, people used to go out and collect eagle feathers. In the herring spawning grounds, the eagles fight for food and lose their feathers. People come along to collect the feathers for ceremonial purposes. But the last few years, that hasn’t happened. I know that in the last five or six years I have been going out but not having any luck–maybe one or two feathers here and there, but not the way it used to be. One time you could collect one or two dozen feathers to give to the Elders for ceremonial purposes.
Now-a-days, the best place for you to collect eagle feathers is probably the Department of Natural Resources.
Once in a while, quite a few people travel up to the Highlands to collect eagle feathers, especially after a moose hunt. There are quite a few of you who would be surprised by the number of eagles up in the Highlands with the hunters. The eagles are feeding on the carrion and the left-over meat and whatever. Quite a few people are going up there to collect feathers.
But back to the problem with the decline in feathers along the Bras d’Or Lakes. Along the River Denys Basin, there was a time when you could pick eagle feathers up anywhere.That was a time when the fish were plentiful. As the eagles fight among each other over who would get the better herring, cod, or gaspereau, they would lose a few feathers in the battle. So, in some ways, in the whole cycle, everything is connected. Eagles will go where the food is and right now, it is up in the Highlands.