Mi’kmaq–led ocean science expedition

By: Ken Paul (he/him/nekom) Principal / Owner Pokiok Associates

On June 25, 2024, Miawpukek Horizon have just completed a 13-day, Mi’kmaq-led ocean science expedition on-board the Oqwatnukewey Eleke’wi’ji’jit – Polar Prince. The ship, owned by Miawpukek First Nation and Maritime Horizon, is a former Coast Guard ice breaker that is used and leased out by scientific organizations and NGOs to conduct research, training, and data collection at sea.

This past winter, Miawpukek Horizon had began an ambitious plan to not only coordinate research partners for the cruise, but also secure funding support from Ulnooweg Development Group to create a learning environment for Mi’kmaq youth. Youth members of the Qalipu First Nation, Miawpukek First Nation, and Jr. Canadian Rangers occupied the vessel for each of the 3 legs of the cruise. The first leg started in Stephenville and focused on the South Coast Fjords, which is an area of interest for researchers and coastal communities, and is a long term project to create a marine Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area led by the Miawpukek First Nation.

The second leg was focused on research and data collection in Bay d’Espoir which included underwater cameras, bottom grabs, conductivity/temperature/depth measurements, and water sampling. The youth were involved with the ship-borne data collection and presented with the analysis to give them hands-on experience in ocean research. We were also treated to a community cultural celebration in the community of Miawpukek First Nation along with a feast that included grilled salmon and moose stew.

The last leg was to give experience to the Jr. Canadian Rangers on the expedition to the Funk Islands Marine Protected Area. The assessments on the site were conducted by Memorial University and the cruise concluded in St. John’s on the 25th.

Indigenous-led projects in the ocean science sector are rare. Miawpukek Horizon is taking a bold approach towards enabling Mi’kmaq-led science that will include a two-eyed seeing integrative approach with Indigenous Knowledge Systems. The June expedition, led by the Miawpukek First Nation, is the first ship-borne science expedition on the south coast of Newfoundland organized and delivered with partners by an Indigenous group in Canada. The long term view is to prepare youth for careers in the ocean research sector, focus on research priorities in the marine environment, and continue research and data collection towards creating protected areas for First Nations and coastal communities.

Miawpukek Horizon would like to acknowledge the following partners, without whom this Mi’kmaq-led science expedition could not have occurred:

  • Ocean Networks Canada
  • Audubon Society
  • PEW Foundation
  • Royal Canadian Geographic Society
  • South Coast Fjords Protected Area Steering Committee.
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans (NL)
  • Marine Institute at Memorial University
  • Pokiok Associates