This game teaches Mi'kmaw youth to be better stewards for salmon

The Atlantic salmon cycle is an important part of many Mi'kmaq communities and that's why a Mi'kmaw resource management group has released a game with the goal of educating youth to be better stewards for salmon.

"How do you reach the youth? [By] using different channels that they are engaged with. To me, video games is a great avenue for that," said John Murvin Vicaire, executive director of the Gespe'gewaq Mi'gmaq Resource Council, an aquatic resource management organization located in Listuguj, Que.

Players have to navigate a river throughout the entire Atlantic salmon cycle from eggs to adulthood. Young salmon make their way to the Atlantic Ocean keeping clear of predators and toxic waters, while adult plamu — the name for salmon in Mi'kmaw — adventure back upstream to spawn. 

Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council

"Out of 8,000 eggs that are produced, only two of those salmon are going to return as adults back to their natal rivers to spawn," said Charlene Labillois, communication officer at the resource council.

"That's kind of troubling and you look at all the different obstacles they have to overcome."

Available in 3 languages

The game is available in English, French, and Mi'kmaw. The organization said it's important to promote their language in everything it does.

"We're always trying to preserve the Mi'kmaw language in our membership communities, and so many languages are dying off, so it's an effort for us to continue building upon the language among the youth," said Labillois.

Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council

According to UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, the Mi'kmaw language is in a vulnerable state.

"We know our language is struggling. We lose speakers every year, and we're not adding enough new speakers," said Vicaire.

"For me, the language has so much knowledge in it. It's full of all this knowledge that was developed over thousands of years of being on the land."

International year of the salmon

The game was released this year to celebrate 2019 as the United Nations' international year of Indigenous languages, as well as the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization's international year of the salmon.

Salmon plays an important role for Mi'kmaq in Listuguj, which sits on the north shore of the Restigouche River between the Quebec and New Brunswick border. 

"Not only are we looking at the salmon here in terms of the health for those that are consuming, but we're also looking at the health of the fish itself because if we rely on a resource such as the fish, it's absolutely important that we're able to maintain this particular salmon — that it returns every year and that it thrives," said Vicaire.

Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council

In 1981, the community was raided twice by provincial police as part of efforts by the Quebec government to impose new restrictions on Indigenous salmon fishermen. Boats, nets and fish were seized. The raids were the subject of Incident at Restigouche, a documentary by Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin. 

Listuguj developed its own fisheries law in the 1990s, and salmon fishing is practised today. Vicaire is one of many community members who spend their summers on the river. He said it's about reconnecting with family and the community.

"It helped us as a food source to survive but I think of the cultural aspect," he said.

"My uncle and I, we fish as partners so we see each other multiple times a day, talking our language. So the importance, I think there's multiple aspects to it."