There are First Nations-Municipal Community Economic Development Initiatives (CEDI), than there is the relationship which has been formed between Paqtnkek First Nation and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish over the past three years. A strengthening relationship/partnership which was officially embraced last year, with the signing of a Friendship Accord, and one that was celebrated and discussed during the First Nation-Municipal Regional Economic Development Forum, held in Paqtnkek May 14.
The forum, titled Anku’kamkewey – Stronger Together, included presentations on indigenous economic performance in Atlantic Canada; best practices, supports and resources for joint economic development and one titled ‘moving from opportunity to action.’ It was hosted by Paqtnkek, Antigonish County, Cando and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, emceed by Trevor Bernard and Molly Peters from Paqtnkek and featured inspirational and reflective prayers from Mi’kmaw elder Kerry Proper.
County Warden Owen McCarron noted how hosting the forum, a first of its kind, signifies the special bond the communities have built.
“When I look at the culmination of three years and the Friendship Accord signing of a year ago in Welnek, to conclude our official part with the CEDI process with a regional development forum, one never held before with any of the CEDI initiatives across the country, that signals how this relationship between Paqtnkek and Antigonish County is a bit different and, I would say, a bit more special,” McCarron said, as the day-long forum had come to a close at the Paqtnkek Gymnasium.
“It gives us a lot of hope as we go forward to continue to look at ways to jointly do things, and work on economic development for every aspect of our communities.”
Paqtnkek Chief Paul ‘PJ’ Prosper talked about the “collaboration.”
“Right from this whole initiative starting three years back, through the signing back in May of last year, through to today, it has been a wonderful journey,” Prosper said.
“It certainly has been collaboration between our community and the municipality and it is nice to see a forum like this take place, with the participation and people from all around.”
The two community leaders were asked about the relationship forming a model for others to follow, and the forum providing a platform to explore the model.
“I think that is the intent and underlying rationale to why we wanted to have an event like this,” Prosper said. “To invite both First Nations – Mi’kmaw, and municipal partners to take in this event, share our story on how we’ve come together and progressed, over the last three years.
“Certainly what we’ve learned is something for them to consider and, maybe, take what they want from it; and try to break down those barriers with respect to Mi’kmaw communities which are within local municipal areas. Engage and build relationships … it’s all about building relationships and working towards initiatives which are to the benefit of all our future generations.”
McCarron said if they had a similar model to follow three years ago, that would have been great.
“The hope is other municipal units and First Nation communities will get together, see the benefits and see the positive energy which has emanated from this relationship, and it will help them build a better community where they live,” he said.
“That’s our hope going forward and we certainly want to share the successes we’ve had going forward and, I think, this forum today, in some small part, will do that.”
The chief and warden were asked about the maintaining the relationship in light of those who helped build it – including themselves – moving on eventually.
“From our side, seeing resolutions adopted by councils taking this type of initiative to a new level, that helps make it go beyond our current term or staffing model,” McCarron said.
“That’s the idea; when you have resolutions, adopted by councils, it helps make it go forward. So it’s not about the person or people currently there, there are processes in place to carry this well into the future.”
Prosper punctuated the thought.
“Like we heard others speak about a legacy binder, and Warden McCarron talk about resolutions, which we both have from our respective councils, it lays that foundation not only in terms of today but into the future,” Prosper said.
“I think it leaves a legacy for our future generations and even though we may not be in our respective positions – either elected or staff – there is a history here; a number of initiatives people can look at and follow through on, for the betterment of generations to come.”