Plants have always been an important part of Mi’kmaq tradition, not just for food but as cures and prevention for many common ailments. Today it is not unusual to see Mi’kmaq Elders picking sweetgrass for ceremonies and other plants as cures for everything from stomach cramps to relieving the symptoms of the common cold. UINR recognizes the importance of plants to our culture and are working on a project to improve our knowledge and understanding of where these important plants are located and how abundant they are. We are using a combination of modern science and traditional knowledge to develop a database that will be used as a conservation management tool. Working with Parks Canada and NewPage, we are mapping existing and new information in a Geographic Information Database (GIS) that will contribute to the conservation of our cultural and ecological heritage.
We have been meeting with knowledgeable Elders to determine what species are important, where they are found and what type of habitat they are usually found in. Using this knowledge, we then investigate botanical literature on local distribution, habitat requirements and if they are endangered. Elders also provided the Mi’kmaq names of the plants they gather.
UINR has hired botanist Catherine Sneddon to conduct a field investigation throughout Unama’ki to confirm the presence of medicinal plants and their abundance in the areas we identified this year. The next step will be to develop a list of the locations that will require special protection or other efforts to preserve threatened species. Another meeting of Elders will be held to present our research results and to review our recommended management plans to protect the plants.
The information that will be released to our funding partners and that will be made public will be determined by the Elders and knowledge holders. UINR retains all control over the content of the project. This is a very important project for us at UINR. It recognizes the continuing importance of plants in our culture and ensures that they will be protected for future generations.