A New Path Forward for Abegweit First Nation
First Nations are faced with a unique challenge; how do we compete and participate in the modern economy while maintaining, sustaining and – in many instances, recapturing – our Indigenous cultures, languages and traditions? We do so by honouring the past and embracing the future.
Most people understand the importance of knowing where you came from. For Aboriginal people, there is the added legacy of the residential schools – for these traditions, our Mi’kmaq language and our way of life, was practiced here on Prince Edward Island not so long ago. Much of that was taken from us by policy decisions that explicitly sought to eliminate them. It is a solemn mandate to today’s generations to restore what was taken from us.
But, as we all know, this is 2016. Not only do we want our people to know and honour the past, we also want them to compete and succeed today. Perhaps in investing what makes us unique will be part of what makes us stand out? Different perspectives, a rootedness in this land – 10,000 years of Indigenous presence….
Education is our golden rule. Providing opportunities and experience, investing in our members. More than anything education will bring the change that we need.
Abegweit is one of 2 PEI First Nations – the other being Lennox Island in western PEI. Together, we represent the only Indigenous people on PEI – a territory which was never ceded by the Mi’kmaq. That simply means: the Treaties that established peace between the Mi’kmaq and the British Crown made no mention of surrender of our lands. In fact, these agreements clearly allowed us to maintain access to the resources of our lands according our needs and practices. Now that is not what ended up happening – however, a series of Supreme Court decisions have affirmed our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and – looking forward, the future is filled with promise for our people and our communities.
Abegweit First Nation is already a major employer – based out of our rural communities. All totaled, we employ 128 community members and 42 non-community members. These positions range from Band Administrative functions to our Band-owned enterprises. The 170 jobs connected to Abegweit First Nation demonstrates the clear financial benefit to the entire area surrounding our First Nation community.
Abegweit First Nation owns and operates a number of businesses based at Scotchfort, including Epekwitk Gas Bar, Redstone Truck & Marine, Commercial Fishery, and other initiatives including Epekwitk Gardens & Preserves, Abegweit Biodiversity and Enhancement Hatchery, Stream Enhancement, and Forestry.
We are particularly proud of the efforts that we have made to develop our economy, create employment and help restore nature at the same time. Our Abegweit Biodiversity and Enhancement Hatchery is a prime example of this. Our traditional knowledge brings an added value to our partners in stream enhancement and the enhancement of several species of fish on PEI. Abegweit First Nation is also the home of many young entrepreneurs – operating from our community and across the Province. We are working to develop increased financial literacy, stimulate youth entrepreneurship and create networks between Aboriginal business people to share best practices and support one another.
We know that Education is key to our future. We have to desire create opportunities and we need the trained people to lead them, to work in these business and to return this investment to our communities. It is critical to our new path forward. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has pointed out – Education was used as a tool to take our identity away from us and it will be through Education that our identity, and our economic independence, is restored.
I am sure that by now you are all familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their Final Report recounts the damage done to Aboriginal people across Canada and call for over a hundred steps to achieve reconciliation between our peoples and other Canadians. We are pleased to see early steps in an improved and more proactive relationship with governments. However, all Canadians should take the time to learn about Residential Schools, about the impact of colonization and to take steps to support and understand our communities as we move forward and assert our place in PEI and Canada.
In the future, you will see Abegweit First Nation build on our foundation of success – sound administration, successful Band-owned enterprises and a vibrant, educated group of young people. We have recently completed an Economic Development Strategic Plan. In the coming years, we will increase our land base, build and enhance our relationship with the private sector and other orders of government. We will diversify and expand our business interests and take on some exiting new ventures – always honouring the past and embracing our future.
The future will also include further asserting our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. PEI remains unceded Mi’kmaq Territory. Our Treaties are withstanding the highest tests in the land, yet we continue to try to grow our economy while restricted to small – and often remote parcels of land. We need more land, we need greater access to resources. As we grow, innovate and pay honour to our Mi’kmaq values, this will inevitably be to the benefit of all Islanders and all Canadians.
Making change happen in Abegweit First Nation is unique. We work at the grassroots, helping to deliver the services that our people need. We are creating opportunity – employing over 170 people. We are innovating and we are investing in our traditions and youth. Honouring our past, embracing the future and creating a new path forward for Abegweit First Nation. Our community is always open to friends new and old. Our citizens are proud and genuine.
On behalf of all of them, Welcome to Abegweit First Nation. Stop by again really soon.
Wela’lin (Thank You),
Chief Brian Francis