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Meet Mashantucket outdoorsman reconnecting youth back to the land

Nakai Clearwater Northup

Nakai Clearwater Northup felt drawn to the woods and the water at a young age.

As a member of both the Mashantucket Pequot and Narragansett tribes he found that hunting and fishing reconnected him to the land while fueling his passion to cook with wild game.

Now at 29 years old, Northup has founded a new company called Rez Life Outdoors to promote Indigenous perspectives on hunting, harvesting and cooking.

Northup began working at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum 10 years ago and now serves as the Head of Education in the public programs department. His passion is working with young people and getting the next generation back outside.

Northup said that Rez Life Outdoors is in collaboration with the museum. It will offer youth programs for hunting and fishing trips, along with educational hikes to forage mushrooms and identify plants for teas and medicines.

“Sparking that reconnection with the land, and we say disconnecting to reconnect, so getting away from our cell phones for a while, social media for a while, and just soaking up what we have around us, is something that is really important,” Northup said.

Since its January launch, Rez Life Outdoors has posted online educational videos about traditional hunting and harvesting knowledge. One educational series is about the 13 Moons calendar.

Northup explained that his tribe, among others, follow a turtle’s shell calendar for when things are ripe and ready to eat. On the back of every turtle shell are 13 spaces which stand for the 13 full moons in a year. There are also 28 spaces on the outer edge of the shell which represents the 28 days in each lunar cycle.

To start off the year, the calendar begins in March with the Sugar Moon. It’s a marker for when maple trees are ready to tap so the sap can be made into syrup. Another plant ready to harvest during the Sugar Moon is white pine needles, which are high in vitamin C and can be brewed into a tea to help with chest congestion.

Northup said that this past April 6 we entered the Fish Moon.

“It's the time of year where spring is here for sure,” Northup said. “The herring are running up our streams and our rivers. And we say that those herring actually bring warmer weather with them as they start their migration back up to breed. But each month, there's a different moon that has a different gift for us.”

Another focus is cooking tutorials and recipes using wild game. Northup first learned how to cook from his mother and great grandmother. He now has his own cookbook in the works, set to be released within the year.

“It's just a really big passion of mine to go out and harvest foods and then turn it into something relatable for people who don't eat venison every day or who don't go out and have wild turkey or rabbit or squirrel or wild mushrooms any of these things and make it something familiar,” he said.

Northup said that eating food sources from the land not only helps people reconnect with nature but it helps their bodies adjust to the changing climate throughout the year. He hopes that Rez Life Outdoors will be a resource that can benefit not only Indigenous people, but all people.

Maria Lynders is a former news fellow at WSHU.