Sana Kavanagh laughs when she’s asked to describe herself. “I often say I’m a non-aboriginal Lebanese-Irish Cape Bretoner,” says Basma’s younger sister. She has worked at the Mi’kmaw Conservation Group, outside Truro, since 2012, as Senior Fisheries Research Advisor, Research and Education Officer, and now Commercial Fisheries Science Liaison Coordinator. She has collaborated with First Nations, government agencies, academia, and the private sector.
Sana was thrilled with her recent first visit to Lebanon with Basma and their mother, Afra. “We wanted to go with her as she told us so much about it. She’s the kind of person who is at home anywhere, but there was this extra energy.” Sana recalls that her mother met her Glace Bay-born father in a philosophy class. “My mom took a shine to him and asked him for a coffee.” She understands their connection as both felt the importance of being generous and welcoming. “And to them it’s important to contribute to your community. And it’s important to value education. That comes from both families who loved literature and poetry, and reading.” Afra became a well-loved English literature teacher and professor. “She is intelligent and formidable.”
More than one culture, more than one language, more than one religion. They’d tell us different stories; it kind of permeated our childhood.
Sana says the children were always aware of their family’s bi-cultural nature. “More than one culture, more than one language, more than one religion. They’d tell us different stories; it kind of permeated our childhood.” Although her mother is a wonderful cook, Sana chuckles about Afra’s first attempts, while a student, to cook American food. “She tells the story of making peach pie by making Lebanese bread and putting canned peaches in between.”
Sana’s name often drew attention. “I never minded explaining what it was and how to say it. Some people are intrigued in a positive way; for some, an unfamiliar name is unsettling.” Like her sister, her closest friends in Cape Breton were children of immigrants. “I felt different as a child of a new immigrant, with a different religious background, and not part of an immigrant community that had been there over 100 years.”
Sana says she was brought up always urged to excel. “Figure it out and do it well at all times. We were expected to be A+ students and go on to do interesting things. My mother would have loved it if we had gone on to be professors, but she’s ecstatic that my sister is a poet, that I achieved higher education, and my brother is entrepreneurial.” She grew up playing rugby, debating, and being a “science nerd.” She has a B.Sc. in biology, but has also studied creative writing.
Sana was a research assistant in the Integrative Science Program at CBU bringing Mi’kmaw perspectives and values into the science curriculum, and led summer camps focused on creating excitement about science in young Mi’kmaw students. Her favourite project is writing about Mi’ kmaw traditional ecological knowledge of eels. “Even though I was determined to study science, I think I had an interest in cultures. It came from my family where you’re thinking of cultures from inside and outside.”