STRAIT AREA: Three municipal units and two First Nations communities joined forces last week for an initiative designed to provide local children with a solid start.

Joined by representatives from Waycobah and Wagmatcook First Nations, Port Hawkesbury Town Council, Victoria County Council and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness (DHW), Inverness Municipal Council’s latest monthly session saw the formal reading of a declaration entitled Mawiomi w’jit Mijuwajijk (Raising the Villages).

Inverness officials have also set aside $13,000 to help support the declaration, which states that those signing it believe children are society’s “North Star” and that all people should work to ensure every child gets the best start in life.

“We have a declaration in draft form still, but we’re floating it to each council and public health, with a commitment of making the journey together,” said Inverness councillor Jim Mustard.

Photo by Grant McDaniel
April 3 was a big day in Inverness council chambers as the Raising the Villages declaration was read. Councillor Jim Mustard is seen here addressing the packed gallery.

According to Waycobah First Nation’s Robert Bernard, who is also the manager of Wagmatcook Culture and Heritage Centre, a phone call from Mustard kick-started the discussion process for Raising The Villages.

“He already had a lot of people on board and working toward this bigger vision of working together and living together,” Bernard recalled.

“When we met, I realized this was about our children, about knowing each other better, creating a deeper understanding and sharing our cultures. When we got together at the Wagmatcook centre, one of the things we thought was that we needed a guiding document. This is our guiding document to say we believe in this path.”

The document was read by several people attending the meeting, with Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton serving as the first speaker.

“To engage in conversations that create broader understanding of the importance of the early years and move us towards planning, prioritizing that align our strategic partnerships, investments and actions aimed at improving the healthy development of all children, families and communities,” said Chisholm-Beaton.

Public health nurse Christine Villneff offered, “To development strategic and collaborative partnerships between individuals, families, organizations, businesses, and the public sector around the mutual goal of creating and sustaining welcoming community spaces that are universally accessible.”

New mother Diana MacKinnon, accompanied by her baby Hector, also took a turn at reading the document.

“To foster the growth of our unique cultural identities, history, language and the richness of traditional extended family support networks,” MacKinnon said.

Finishing the document was Inverness Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie.

“To gain support from all levels of government, the private sector and community organizations to ensure we sustain the resources needed to provide equity from the start for all our children,” MacQuarrie stated.

“With this in mind, we ‘the people’ have come together to support the Raising the Villages movement and call on all parties across our region to work together with us to reach our goals – dated this third day of April, 2017 in Port Hood, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in the ancestral and traditional territory of the Mi’kmaw people of Unamaki.”

Pauline Isadore offered a smudging ceremony for anyone visiting the meeting, and sitting in the gallery were vocalists who sang the “Mi’kmaw Honour Song,” as well as members of the Indian Bay Drummers, who offered a “Gathering Song.”

As for the next steps in the Raising the Village concept, Mustard confirmed during the following evening’s meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council that he and his colleagues plan to collect data on child-friendly spaces “from Bay St. Lawrence right down to here” over the next six months.

“To make a really attractive place where new businesses want to start up, this is part of what we do – we create these welcoming spaces in each community,” Mustard declared.

“Maybe Port Hawkesbury has two or three… Maybe Port Hastings can do it. That’s our job, to figure out where these spaces are.”