Officials with Paqntkek Mi’kmaw Nation continue work on “next steps,” when it comes to creating economic and community prosperity.
“We are going through the process of getting ready for what needs to be done,” Rose Paul, director of economic development, told the Casket in her Paqtnkek Band Office.
The conversation took place just days after a historic decision by community members, which approved the transfer of 67 acres of reserve land to the federal, and then provincial governments.
“It’s huge,” Paul said.
Ninety-six per cent of community members who cast ballots approved the proposal.
That land will be used by the province as part of a $15.3 million highway interchange project, which will also provide Paqtnkek with access to property it owns south of the Trans-Canada that the community was cut off from with the roadway’s construction in the mid-1960s.
Paqntkek will receive $2.37 million for the land surrender.
Band officials note the interchange project is separate from any prior claims brought by Paqtnkek “over the more than half-century of lost development opportunities.”
On the heels of the vote, Chief Paul J. Prosper described the results as “a historic day for our community.”
He thanked “our provincial and federal partners for their dedication to this project.”
“And I want to acknowledge our current and previous council leadership for their steadfast belief in a more prosperous Paqtnkek, with good paying jobs and opportunities for our young people,” Prosper added.
The provincial tender for the highway initiative is expected to include an interchange with a safe pedestrian/cyclist walkway, bridges, connecting roads and on/off ramps.
Construction, which is estimated to take 24 to 30 months, will also allow for future Trans-Canada Highway twinning.
“It is also important that we are working on community readiness here as well,” Paul noted.
“We are looking towards preparing our skilled workforce, in our community, that would be part of the project.”
She added there is a lot of work to be done related to “land regimes.”
“If the land is going to be prepped, we need to start looking at the cost of servicing the land and developing a tenant strategy – what kind of tenants we are going to look at and investments,” Paul said.
She noted another community vote has to take place.
“This one is not as huge as the surrender vote was but, as part of the Indian Act, we have to do land designation,” Paul said.
“It is pretty much just asking the community if we can use so many acres of land – just designate it for economic development.
“When that part is complete, then the community can move into the next steps of development for the highway,” she added.
As part of preparing for those ‘next steps,’ Paul noted Paqtnkek officials are working closely with partners, including the federal and provincial governments, along with the Municipality of the County of Antigonish.
“We have a critical path that we have been following just to hit our really important timelines, which we have,” Paul said.
“Now we are at an exciting time, where we get to look at the tenants and we get to look at our workforce and training more people.
“We have a lot of people in our community, who are highly-educated, and we are a young community, and they are waiting; how they can be part of the development,” she added.
Examples to follow
As part of the process, Paqtnkek officials have consulted with and looked at other First Nation models in the region.
“We have studied other great examples of community development at Membertou, Millbrook and Glooskap, in Nova Scotia, and also at Madawaska, in New Brunswick,” she said.
“We will apply many of those best practices in the months and years ahead to ensure as many social and economic benefits as possible for our community.”
Paul noted they have been learning “bits and pieces” from each band.
“But, we are developing something that is going to be unique that works for us; however, taking these practices and how we can best – have a turnaround in our economic spinoff in the community,” she said.
“Not just cash wealth but people wealth as well; bringing down the poverty rate, eliminating the transfer payments from Indian Affairs for welfare and stuff like that – how best can we subsidize and support our own community, make our community more sustainable.
“That’s our goal and just hammering down the next few steps that we have to do,” she added, including the land piece of the puzzle.
Paul said the community is “getting ready for huge investment.”
“We have been working on this for so long, and the vote came, and reality is just starting to hit for a lot of people – that this is really going to happen,” she said.
Change in mentality
Paul noted “the mentality here has been changed.”
“When you speak to young people now, they are thinking about their own businesses, they are thinking about what they can do for themselves.
“There is a huge paradigm shift happening here and I can see it happening, even more, over the next few years.
“It is a huge shift and it is a positive one,” she added.
Paul noted the community has needs, just like any other one.
“We need support with mental health, with addiction and all that stuff, but if you don’t make your community healthy, you are not going to make your people healthy, and that’s what we are really focussed on,” she said.
Paul noted her motto is “building community.”
“If you do that, then you can build capacity, build community and get into economic development,” she said.
“For us, now, it is about community readiness; keeping that communication open with all of us.”
Paul talked more about the effect of the recent positive vote.
“What we have done … and what I am very proud of is that years and years and years after – decades later – when we are not around, our young people will not have to go through that again,” she said, noting “the surrender pieces are completed.”
“Unless they decide that they want to surrender more, as they go along or if they acquire more band land but, right now, they don’t have to worry about any of that,” she said, adding that process has been completed for land from Heatherton to Highway #4.
Paul noted the land surrender also includes the planned twinning and bridge.
“It wasn’t just the interchange; it was the future development – the whole stretch – for the next 10 years,” she said.
Paul explained another process – “additions to reserve” – has to be completed, which hastens the process in respect to the land.
“We did not want to wait that long, in case it might be something that – we didn’t want to have any glitches with our development, we didn’t want to develop anything negative about it,” she said.
Paul, who will be overseeing that process, noted the hope is the turnover won’t be “too, too long.”
“In some places, it is really long, so hopefully not for us, especially where we have government support for development.”
Once that process is completed, Paul added, the community will have to find its “anchor tenant.”
“Right now, the primary anchors that we are looking at is expanding our gas bar services – making that one of the most beautiful, state-of-the-art areas, and not just a pit stop; somewhere people can stop and rest, eat and get some culture,” Paul said.
She noted the community’s gaming facilities will also be moved out to the highway.
“We are going to look at expanding all those businesses,” Paul said.
“We want to make it an attractive and very high-profile area, where people will want to come off the highway.”
Sense of optimism
Established in 1820, Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation is a member of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq.
The community, which is located between Heatherton and Tracadie in Antigonish County, approximately 25 kilometres east of Antigonish, has 406 members on-reserve and another 132 living off-reserve, throughout Canada and the United States.
Paqtnkek, meaning ‘by the bay,’ as the community indicates, emphasizes the importance of the local bay and its resources to the Mi’kmaw people.
Band officials have started looking at investor applications, as part of taking those aforementioned ‘next steps,’ which Paul called the “biggest ones.”
“The work is starting now – that was hard work, but there is even more hard work to come,” Paul said.
She added it will be the “turnover of a lifetime for Paqtnkek.”
“The young people will be able to continue to grow from this,” Paul said.
To illustrate the overall mood in the community – for all ages – she repeated the thoughts of a resident of what is on the horizon.
“‘This is a sleeping giant and we are just walking it up,’” Paul said.
For more information on the highway interchange project, visit http://paqtnkek.ca/commercial/business-development/highway-interchange-project/