Tanner Sage Barnaby, the son of Tara Barnaby and Robby Ouellette, has been salmon fishing for the last six years and he’s only twelve. He leaves the quarry in the middle of a rainy afternoon and when he arrives to the fishing area he slows down the motor to set the net. A very attentive boy, Tanner drives the boat with the seriousness that his tasks require.
As the rain continues to fall, he stops the boat and initiates a conversation with Aurele Isaac, his mentor. They talk about the places where other fisherman set their nets. “We have to respect them,” he says. “If you see that one person has a good catch on his place you just can’t come the next time and occupy his location. We have laws and we have to respect them,” he says to Tanner.
This friendship started when Aurele met Tanner one day. He noticed his interest in the outdoors and he asked if he wanted to fish salmon. After Tanner accepted, Aurele talked to his mother and told him to be ready early in the morning. When Aurele went to pick him up at 6:30 am he was there, waiting at the door.
Six years later they are still fishing together. “I accepted his invitation because Aurele teaches about my culture and he also speaks to me in Mi’gmaq. I like that, I want to keep our traditions going,” said Tanner with a sincere tone.
Aurele grew up fishing, working in the woods, learning the traditions with his father and everything was said in Mi’gmaw. Now it’s his turn to pass them on. “I find it important to pass on the tradition because if we don’t, who will exercise it, who will pass it to the next generation, who will defend it when threatened?” he maintains.
There are few young fishermen on the river today, but not enough to secure a wide practice and knowledge of the tradition of fishing. “Very few of my friends fish for salmon” said Tanner who seems happy on the river. “I learned to drive the boat, clean the net, grab the floats, pull anchors, check the net, use the pole, clean the salmon and to give away my first catch”, he declares. For any young person these skills take time and practice to learn. “Now, I don’t have to tell him what to do,” says Aurele who feels content to see Tanner learning the skills that allowed the Mi’gmaq to get their sustenance from the river and to maintain the respect for Plamu.
As a kid, Aurele’s father, Isaac Isaac, “Isaacjij” taught him salmon fishing, moose and deer hunting, and ice fishing. His older brother, uncles and other adults also passed on to him that traditional knowledge. He used to spend two weeks of the Christmas holidays in the woods. Today children have fewer teachings and it worries Aurele. “When I was a kid I had access to a lot of traditional activities and now I feel there isn’t enough of that for the children. My father told me ‘I will not always be here so you need to learn all these things because you are a Mi’gmaq.’ So it’s up to us men to pass on our traditions,” affirms Aurele.
After the fishing season, Tanner and Aurele will team up again for partridge hunting, rabbit snaring, moose hunting, ice fishing. “Aurele is a good friend who teaches me a lot. He’s a good teacher,” says Tanner who is in Grade 7 at AGS. “Most of my friends don’t go fishing. I only know one kid that goes salmon fishing with his grand-father.”
“I’m amazed by the number of kids who are interested in fishing but sadly for one reason or another their dads don’t take them to the river,” said Aurele who also fishes with his daughter Ariel. “Our traditions are getting weaker and we need to share our knowledge and bring more kids out because they will be the ones defending our rights. They need to practice traditions to exercise rights. Some communities have negotiated their fishing rights and I don’t it want to happen it here.”