PAQTNKEK: Molly Peters says it takes really strong leadership to develop really strong relationships.
“Seeing how far we’ve come, putting in the work, coming together with open hearts and open minds and really digging in and doing the work that’s needed to be done – that’s reconciliation in action.”
On May 14, the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation and their neighbours, the Municipality of the County of Antigonish, co-hosted a Regional Economic Development Forum in Paqtnkek, titled “Anku’kamkewey – Stronger Together.”
First Nation and Municipal leaders from throughout Nova Scotia gathered to explore opportunities for joint regional economic development initiatives and discuss the benefits of First Nation–Municipal partnerships.
Over the past three years, Paqtnkek and the County of Antigonish have proudly participated in the First Nation – Municipal Community Economic Development Initiative (CEDI) program, co-led by Cando and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation Chief PJ (Paul) Prosper explained the event was a historic day and a milestone for their community. Anku’kamkewey translates to Friendship Agreement.
“This event takes place one year after establishing our Anku’kamkewey/Friendship Agreement with our neighbour, our friends and our partners at the Municipality of the County of Antigonish,” Prosper said. “Our participation in the CEDI program has developed strong and lasting relations and together we are working toward new development of both economic and social benefits for our collective community.”
Their participation in the program culminated in this region-wide forum which focused on relationship-building, as well as establishing priorities and opportunities for regional joint community economic development.
“Looking back, former Warden Russell Boucher was a huge supporter and proponent on building this relationship,” current Warden Owen McCarron said. “Two-years-ago we lost Russell, but as a municipality we were at a point in this relationship the decision as easy to continue.”
McCarron has seen a lot of growth over the past three years and the partnership has allowed the two councils to become more familiar with one another.
“That, to me, is one of the most beneficial pieces of this exercise,” he explained. “We’re getting to know our neighbours, understanding how our governments work collaboratively but also differently.”
Acting on the notion of forward being a direction and not a speed, McCarron indicated it’s crucial to just take the time to get to know one another on a personal level and trust is a huge piece of how to move forward.
“Sometimes just a phone call on an issue or having a side-bar discussion is critically important to that relationship.”
Relationships take a number of key components and there has to be a bright environment for a relationship to take root; and the bond between Paqtnkek and the County of Antigonish has grown into a unique relationship.
Prosper became emotional as he recalled a difficult time for his community, flying home from a business-trip last March after racist comments were spray-painted at the local school, and it really created an uproar within his community.
“I soon realized I was going to be walking into a hornet’s nest here, and there’s going to be discussions that were going to be taking place, we have to resolve some of these issues,” he said. “One of the first messages I got was from Warden McCarron. It was just a general concern of how we were doing, how our community was getting along.”
The gesture made Prosper feel like somebody cared about how they’re doing and how they feel and he believes that is a testament to their relationship.
Through the CEDI program, elected leaders and senior staff from both communities have met over the course of five workshops, to: share traditional and current-day land use plans; share information on their respective governance and jurisdiction models; participate in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise; explore joint renewable and energy efficient opportunities with Chris Henderson of Indigenous Clean Energy; and engage provincial and federal ministries in their joint initiatives.
The forum consisted of panel discussions on: building a Mi’kmaq–Municipal relationship and the best practices, supports and resources for joint community economic development; dialogues in opportunities for First Nation–Municipal joint community economic development and moving from opportunity to action; and break-out discussions in areas such as youth education and Mi’kmaq, Celtic and Acadian culture and tourism, solar energy, shared services, and collaborative workforce strategies.
“Beyond the three-years in sort of the guided process, through the FCM and the CEDI process, this gives us a great opportunity to move forward,” McCarron explained. “And to make sure this relationship goes on for generations to follow.”