Materials required: element cards, logbook
This activity uses element cards (animals, plants, fish, molluscs, water and soil) and allows students to create a cycle of life with each other. The purpose is to explore the concept of Msɨt No’kmaq — We are all related — Psiw Ntulnapemok.
The activity proceeds as follows:
- Ensure students understand the following concepts: interdependence, predator, and prey. Other helpful terms include habitat, seasons, and migration.
- Distribute the element cards and review them with students. Ask each student to share who they are with the class. Learn and say the name of the element in Mi’kmaw or Wolastoqey Latuwewakon.
- Students should then research their element to figure out what they eat and who eats them. This can be done with the teacher using the key, or on the web as independent work. Useful websites follow at the end of the activity.
- When they are finished with their own element, ask the students to link an arm with another element that they are related to or that they affect. Who do they eat? Who eats them? Who do they live nearby? Share food with? Share a habitat with?
- When the students believe they have made all the linkages they can, try to identify more linkages. In the end, students should be virtually on top of each other, demonstrating the degree of interdependence of the world. They should be able to see that each cycle is a part of numerous other cycles, directly and indirectly.
- Then ask them who or what either helps them live, or damages them? What governs the behaviour of each element? Does it matter? Is it different for a person than it is for a coyote than it is for a tree? Who or what decides? Why does this matter?
- Finally, how is this element changed? What happens to it after it dies? Where did it go? Did it become a part of a new life? And new death? And a different new life? Did human life have an impact on it?
When students are finished understanding the relationships among the elements, they can draw or otherwise record their cycles of life. One of the important concepts within Msɨt No’kmaq – Psiw Ntulnapemok is that every element in our world is a part of every other element. This activity helps students see that if these cycles are extended over many generations and thousands of years — through various events of death, decomposition, predation and preyed upon — that we really are all part of one another.
Key to Elements
This information is provided to get students started. It is not comprehensive; sources for additional research are included at the end of the key. (To maintain consistency, the following list is arranged in alphabetical order of the Mi’kmaw term. Readers will find the list arranged in order of the English term at the end of the lesson.)
Alanj/Herring/Pelkaqsit Eats: phytoplankton, baby clams, oysters, lobsters and other crustaceans. Eaten by: bear, cod, birds including eagles, osprey and seagulls, whales, other fish including salmon, and people.
Amu/Bumblebee/Amuwes Eats: nectar and pollen. Eaten by: birds, bears, insects (including wasps), spiders, toads, skunks, and small mammals. Other: bees produce honey for a range of animals including people and bears.
Apli’kmuj/Snowshoe hare/Mahtoqehs Eats: plants including green grasses, vetches, strawberry, dandelion, clovers, daisies, birch, willow, aspen, and carrion. Eaten by: foxes, coyotes, owls, wolves, lynx, bobcat, people, and mink. Other: an important animal in Indigenous stories as well as for food and fur. Historically, the leg bone was used for teething babies.
Apuksikn/Lynx/Apiqosikon or Posu Eats: Snowshoe hare, rodents, porcupine, red squirrels, deer, large ground birds like partridge or pheasant, sometimes reptiles. Eaten by: as kits: foxes and coyotes, and large owls.
Atoqwa’su/Brook trout/Skuhtom Eats: (anything and everything) aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, small fish (including their own), mayflies, salamanders, worms, crustaceans, spiders, frogs, snakes, small rodents. Eaten by: brook and other trout species, heron, eagles, and people. Other: called trout, but are actually a char species, and are highly sensitive to water temperature and acidity.
E’s/Soft-shell clam/Ess Eats: plankton and organic detritus. Eaten by: sharks, sculpin, shorebirds, particularly gulls, cormorants, ducks, green crabs, snails, and people.
Jakej/Lobster/Sak bottom feeder. Eats: decayed organic matter on the bottom of the ocean, crab, clams, mussels, starfish, sea urchins and flounder. Eaten by: as young: cod, flounder, monkfish, sculpin, and as older: gulls and people. Other: lobster is now an important part of First Nation fisheries.
Jijawe’j/Cricket/Sikiliyem Eats: grasses, ragweed, butterflies (eggs), grasshoppers (eggs), other insects and crickets. Eaten by: various birds, beetles, frogs, toads, turtles, salamanders, people, and small rodents. Other: indicator species for harvesting birch bark in the spring (coming out of hibernation) and for drying skins and meat in the fall (when chirping stops).
Jipjawej/American robin/Ankuwiposehehs Eats: wild and cultivated fruits and especially berries, worms, beetles, caterpillars, small snakes, fish, and various other insects. Eaten by: owls, hawks, raccoons, snakes, squirrels, crows, and blue jays.
Kataw/American eel/Kat Eats: aquatic insects, small crustaceans, clams, worms, fish and frogs, carrion. Eaten by: eagles, seabirds (gulls, cormorants, herons), larger fish including sharks, and people. Other: eel have been an important food source for Indigenous people and are culturally significant as well. See www.uinr.ca.
Kjimsiku/Sweetgrass/Welimahaskil Eats: water and nutrients from the soil. Eaten by: waterfowl. Other: sweetgrass is one of the most culturally and spiritually significant plants; used in ceremonies as well as in baskets, quill boxes and other art forms
Klmuej/Mosquito/Cossu Eats: plant nectar. Eaten by: bats, birds, spiders, frogs, dragonflies, and fish. Other: female mosquitoes require blood for reproduction, and will drink the blood from various mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Kitpu/Bald eagle/Cihpolakon Eats: cod, eels, flounder, salmon, ducks, and carrion. Eaten by: the Bald eagle has no known predators, although human activities have major consequences for them. Other: the Bald eagle is one of the most culturally and spiritually significant animals, a messenger from the people to the Creator.
Kopit/Beaver/Qapit Eats: bark of willow, maple, poplar, beech, birch, alder and aspen trees. Eaten by: bears, wolves, lynx, fishers, river otters, and people. Other: beavers figure prominently in Mi’kmaw stories and have been valued as a fur and food source.
Kop-itej/Sow beetle/Mihkonaqoss Eats: any decaying plant and animal material as well as algae, fungus, moss, and bark. Eaten by: spiders, ants, birds, and amphibians. Other: the Mi’kmaw name is a derivation of “beaver” — because it looks like a beaver tail!
Ku’ku’kwes/Barred owl/Kuhkukhahs Eats: mostly voles and shrews, but also frogs, snakes, slugs, rabbits, salamanders, fish, insects, and earthworms. Eaten by: Great Horned owl. Other: the Mi’kmaw name “Googoo” is a derivation of “ku’ku’kwes.”
Ku’ku’kwesji’j/Laurel Sphinx moth/Kuhkukhahsis Eats: as a caterpillar, the leaves of laurel, lilac, fringe tree, ash tree, poplar, mountain holly and northern bush honeysuckle. Eaten by: spiders and many bird species. Other: it means little owl — reflecting that some moths look like miniature owls.
L’ketu/Mushroom/Asukulapet Eats: dead organic matter from the soil and water (decomposer). Eaten by: deer, bears, slugs, snails, insects, rabbits, crows and other birds, and people, among others. Other: mushrooms are more an animal than a plant, but they are distinct from both animals and plants.
L’pa’tuj (L’nu)/Young boy (people)/Skinuhsossis Eats: Human beings eat a wide variety of foods including mammals, fish, plants, insects, amphibians, and birds. Eaten by: coyotes, bears, and cougars. Other: while humans are in the middle of the food chain in terms of trophic levels, they have enormous consequences on habitats across the world — terrestrial and aquatic.
Maskwi/White birch/Masqemus Eats: water, nutrients from the soil. Eaten by: beaver, insects, moose, deer, porcupine, sapsuckers. Other: birch bark is lightweight, waterproof and pest resistant; due to these properties it has been used widely for everything from wigwams, to canoes, to birch bark containers. The inner bark can also be used for an orange dye.
Matues/Porcupine/Matuwehs Eats: diet varies by season, but preference is for bark of young conifers and particularly spruce and fir, but also sugar maple, poplar, birch, hemlock, and ash trees as well as some seeds, nuts, and fruits. Eaten by: lynx, bobcat, coyotes, fishers, wolves, Great Horned owls, and people. Other: porcupines have been known to eat wood products such as axe handles, etc., for the salt. Porcupine quills are used extensively by the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqewiyik. The quills are used for quill boxes as well as to adorn a wide variety of household items such as chairs, wall pockets and picture frames.
Mikekne’j/Little Brown bat/Motekoniyehs Eats: small moths, wasps, small beetles, gnats, mosquitoes and other insects. Eaten by: rarely preyed upon in the wild, mice during hibernation is possible. Other: bats have been affected dramatically by a fungus called White Nose Syndrome, with a 90% decline between 2011 and 2014 according to the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Departments of Natural Resources.
Mikjikj/Painted turtle/Lapskahasit Cihkonaqc Eats: crustaceans, insects, snails, small fish, berries, worms, frogs, some plants including leaves and algae. Eaten by: raccoons, skunks, otters, mink, people, and foxes. Other: turtles are a symbol of knowledge and wisdom because of the knowledge they gain over their very long lives — in fact, the longest of any animal in the Maritimes, even longer than humans’ lives.
Mimikes/Butterflies/Amakehs Eats: adults feed on nectar with juveniles feeding on a wide variety of leaves of plants. Eaten by: birds, dragonflies, snakes, frogs and toads.
Mntmu/Oyster/Pahsapsq Eats: phytoplankton and zooplankton. Eaten by: comb jellies, crustaceans, starfish, fishers, river otters, people and some fish as young oysters.
Mte’skm/Garter snake/Athusoss Eats: worms, salamanders, frogs, small fish, crickets, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, snails, and slugs. Eaten by: crows, foxes, raccoons, hawks, and eagles.
Muin/Black bear/Muwin Eats: berries, insects, grasses, deer, moose, grubs, honey, many fish including salmon and trout, snakes, and small mammals. Eaten by: wolves, lynx, bobcat, coyote, and people. Other: a symbol of family and maternal care as young cubs stay with their mothers for 3-5 years after birth; one of the longest periods known for non-human animals.
Peju/Cod/Nuhkomeq Eats: most small aquatic organisms, but mainly zooplankton, phytoplankton, shrimp, crustaceans including mussels, clams, sand dollars, squid, and other fish including cod. Eaten by: seals (harp and harbour), sharks, other fish including other cod, and people.
Pkumann/Blueberry/Saht Eats: water and nutrients in the soil. Eaten by: bears, bees, various birds including partridge, butterflies, deer, insects, robins, foxes, rabbits, and people. Other: blueberries were used for dyes, tea and medicines.
Plamu/Salmon/Polam Eats: aquatic insect larvae, terrestrial insects, herring, alewife, smelt, capelin, trout, mackerel and cod. Eaten by: seabirds including mergansers, cormorants, and gulls, other fish including cod, pollock, and pike, bears, sharks, seals, otters, and people.
Plawej/Partridge/Mociyehs Eats: insects as young, berries and fruit including partridgeberries, apples, blueberries, and strawberries, sunflower seeds, and birch, poplar and willow buds. Eaten by: foxes, bobcat, fishers, weasels, ermine, coyotes, owls, hawks, falcons, and people. Other: Also called ruffed grouse.
Plawejuimanaqsi/Partridgeberry/Kahkakuhsuwimin Eats: water and nutrients in the soil. Eaten by: moose, bear, deer, people, skunks, partridge (also called ruffed grouse), and spruce grouse as well as many other mammals and birds. Other: used for medicines (to reduce fevers and swelling and to ease childbirth), and as a tea.
Pukunmawel/Quahog/Qahaks Eats: plankton. Eaten by: starfish, whelks, crabs, snails, shorebirds, some fish and people. Other: wampum beads were made from the quahog shell.
Putup/Minke whale/Putep Eats: plankton, cod, eels, herring, salmon (can eat any small fish). Eaten by: people, orca whales, large sharks. Other: there has been no commercial whaling since 1986.
Samqwan/Water/Samaqan: All plants and animals need water to survive; understood as the essence of life.
Sqolj/Bullfrog/Kci-coqols or Amtokolam Eats: worms, insects, crustaceans, young birds, and eggs of fish, frogs, salamanders and snakes. Eaten by: herons, egrets, turtles, water snakes, raccoons, kingfishers, and people.
Su’n/Cranberry/Suwon Eats: water and nutrients from soil. Eaten by: bees, deer, black bears, rodents including woodchucks and voles, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, and people. Other: used as a dye and as medicine.
Tapatat/Wild potato/Tahkitom Eats: nutrients from the soil and aquatic environment. Eaten by: beavers, porcupine, muskrats, ducks, geese, and people. Other: this was an important food source historically and is still harvested today.
Taqtaloq/Salamander/Akotalaqsis Eats: insects, worms, beetles, snails, spiders and slugs. Eaten by: brook trout, turtles, frogs, beetles and owls.
Tia’m/Moose/Mus Eats: herbivore: grasses, young trees, lichens, woody plants, water plants. Eaten by: wolves, coyotes, bears, and people. Other: a culturally important animal to the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqewiyik. Lots of information at www.uinr.ca.
Tities/Blue jay/Tihtiyas Eats: berries, nuts, seeds (rarely insects, mice, frogs, and other birds). Eaten by: hawks, falcons, raccoons, snakes, owls, and crows.
Tupkwan/Soil/Tupqan: While soil does not eat plants or animals, it does contain nutrients, bacteria, and minerals, among much else that is essential to plants and to some animals.
Tupsi/Alder/Tuhp Eats: water and nutrients from the soil. Eaten by: butterflies, moths, partridge, snowshoe hare, beaver, deer, moose and people, among many others. Other: tea and medicine; also, an indicator species. When tupsi pollen covers water bodies, the brook trout have reached the upstream habitats and can be harvested.
Wasoqɨli’j/Firefly/Pitiyahtuwessossit Eats: larvae are predators of other insects, snails, earthworms. Adults feed on nectar and may consume their mates. Eaten by: frogs, toads, other fireflies, bats, and mice. Other: they contain a chemical that can make mammals and birds vomit. Also, an indicator species: when they emerge from winter hibernation, thick birch bark can be harvested, and when they begin to mate (their rear ends light up), thin bark can be harvested.
Weti/Earthworm/Wet or Wetehsis Eats: organic matter, leaves, and humus. Eaten by: birds and particularly robins and gulls, snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, porcupines, raccoons, hedgehogs, foxes, and skunks.
Click here to download, print and cut out the elements cards to do an activity with your students.
Note that in some cases the translations may reflect only the species of the animal rather than the sub-species chosen to describe. Primary sources of information include the Animal Diversity Web at animaldiversity.org, the Nova Scotia Wildlife and Biodiversity inventory at www.novascotia.ca/natr/wildlife, and the Nova Scotia Museum at www.museum.novascotia.ca. Special thanks to Andrew Hebda of the Nova Scotia Museum for content review.