by Richard Perry, Communications consultant, Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation

Rose Paul reaches for a box of fading, archived letters sitting on her filing cabinet at the band office of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation.

“Here’s a letter from 1977, telling us we could not get full access to the other half of our own reserve, which was cut off when they built the Trans Canada Highway,” she says. “Instead, the province offered to lease us a small piece of land near the highway so we could sell ‘Indian crafts’”.

That offer was politely declined.

Fourty years later, this small, tight-knit community of 450 residents, about 15 minutes down the highway from Antigonish, is now on the verge of something much more lucrative than selling baskets.

After years of frustration of not having full access to its land, the band successfully negotiated what it sees as a win-win deal with the provincial and federal governments. Paqtnkek gets a $15.3 million interchange for future economic development (including a provincial commitment to maintain the roads). Governments can claim credit for job creation while reaping the benefits of future tax revenue.

If, as expected, band members vote on July 13th to transfer land for the project, construction could start as early as this fall and would take about 30 months to complete.

The real prize is much more than land and concrete; with access to both sides of the 104 Trans-Canada for the first time since the mid-1960s, planning is well underway to create a highway commercial centr ...

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