Nova Scotia

Paqtnkek and Antigonish County sign 'historic' friendship agreement

Just steps from the harbour where Donald Marshall Jr.'s fight to affirm his treaty rights began, an "historic milestone" was reached between an Indigenous community and a Nova Scotia municipality on Saturday.

Warden and chief make commitment at a special ceremony on Saturday

Chief Paul Prosper and Warden Owen McCarron planted a black ash tree in an area known as Walnek as part of the ceremony on Saturday. (Submitted by Richard Perry)

Just steps from the harbour where Donald Marshall Jr.'s fight to affirm his treaty rights began, an "historic milestone" was reached between an Indigenous community and a Nova Scotia municipality on Saturday.

Chief Paul Prosper of Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation signed a friendship accord with Warden Owen McCarron of the Municipality of the County of Antigonish in front of about 50 residents, politicians and local leaders. 

"The clouds broke and the sun came out and you know there were eagles flying around," Prosper said. "I would call it a sort of magical event."

The one-page accord outlines a framework for the partnership and states that both councils will meet to share ideas at least twice a year. 

The document also states that they "recognize and accept that we share a territory and common interests, living on traditional Mi'kmaw territory."

Both groups have a copy of the accord and it will be shared with community members too, Prosper said. 

Chief Paul Prosper and Warden Owen McCarron say the formal commitment provides a stronger basis for working together. (Submitted by Richard Perry)

"It exists as a formalized commitment between our respective governing structures to undertake this journey together," said Prosper. He believes it's one of the first such agreements in Nova Scotia. 

Highway project on its way

The small First Nation community, about 20 kilometres outside Antigonish, is on its way to developing a commercial centre similar to Membertou or Millbook.

But first, it needs to complete a $15.3 million highway interchange project that allows the band to access hundreds of acres once cut off by the Trans Canada Highway.

Rose Paul, Paqtnkek's director of economic development, has already been working with municipality staff on the project, but says the relationship has always been vague. 

She said the accord provides clarity on how they'll work together. 

"We have a stronger relationship where we can actually walk the land together, and see the vision together rather than feeling like we can't work together," Paul said.

The friendship accord is symbolic, but both Prosper and McCarron say it also provides practical steps for working together. (Submitted by Richard Perry)

Paqtnkek and the municipality were recently selected from among 82 communities for the Community Economic Development Initiative, which provides a framework for growing the economy. They've also jointly submitted a proposal for the Smart Cities Challenge. 

"They're taking the time to learn about the First Nation and the governance of our community, and it really did open a door that may have been partially shut before," Paul said. 

Should have happened sooner

McCarron said Paqtnkek's plans for economic development are good for the municipality. 

"There will be jobs that will accrue at that spot, and people from both the First Nations community and non-First Nations will have an opportunity for employment so we see that as really beneficial," he said. 

He only wishes it happened sooner.

Assembly of First Nations Nova Scotia Regional Chief Paul Prosper says the national advocacy organization needs a major reset.
Prosper hopes more municipalities and First Nations sign similar agreements. (Richard Perry/Submitted)

"But we're so grateful that we finally have formalized an official friendship accord, and recognizing a path forward," he said. 

Prosper said more cooperation is happening among First Nations and the federal and provincial governments so it makes sense it would happen at the municipal level, among neighbours.

"I do think there is somewhat of a shift that exists within many Indigenous-community settings of recognizing that the past being essentially that, the past," he said. "There is a need, and I believe a willingness for people to forge new relationships."

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