The chief of the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation hopes a multimillion dollar highway project currently underway will provide a new source of revenue to the small First Nation community.
“For community members, it allows us to enter into commercial development to allow the development of … different businesses, different commercial enterprises that would help generate revenues for much needed programs and services within the community,” Chief Paul Prosper said in a recent interview.
“It also provides an avenue for community members to engage in business practices, in entrepreneurship, things of that nature,” he said.
Currently, the community of Paqtnkek, located between Antigonish and Auld’s Cove, N.S. is divided by Trans Canada Highway 104. There is only one road off the highway that leads to one section of the community. There is no access to the other portion of the community.
The current $15-million highway project will connect the two sides of Paqtnkek by constructing a overpass with access ramps and connector roads. Both the federal and Nova Scotia government have contributed the funding needed for the highway project.
In July, Paqtnkek held a referendum in which band members voted in favour of transferring 27 hectares of band-owned land to construct the overpass and access ramps to the Nova Scotia government.
“(The Province) will own the infrastructure and they will be responsible for maintaining that infrastructure,” Prosper explained.
“The added advantage for the community is having access to a major highway that runs right through our community,” he added.
Looking to attract businesses – Paqtnkek Chief Paul Prosper
That highway access is key for Paqtnkek to develop the land surrounding the future highway exit for commercial use, Prosper said.
Once completed, Prosper says he envisions commercial development for Paqtnkek will be similar to other First Nation commercial developments in the Maritimes such as Millbrook First Nation and Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia and Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick.
“We’re looking to attract the most attractive businesses. Given where we’re located, I mean, it’s an excellent location. There’s good visibility. We’re sort of between two bigger towns, Antigonish and Port Hawkesbury,” Prosper said.
One way Prosper hopes to attract businesses to Paqtnkek is a recent performance certificate it received from the First Nations Financial Management Board. In order to receive the certification, the financial department at Paqtnkek had to share five years of financial records with the board.
The only other First Nations in Atlantic Canada to receive performance certificates from the First Nations Financial Management Board include Acadia, Glooscap, Membertou, Millbrook and Sipekne’katik in Nova Scotia.
Prosper said the band council and band staff have worked hard over the past four years to improve the community’s financial situation. The First Nation was subjected to a forensic audit ordered by then Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
According to band audits posted online, Paqtnkek has reduced its debt from $4.5-million in 2013 to $2.3-million in 2017.
“So what that speaks to is companies feeling the confidence in our financial management practices,” Prosper said.
“It gives them the confidence to invest in our community,” he added.
Once the highway construction is completed, the community will be required to hold another referendum to designate the reserve land around the new highway exit for commercial development, Prosper said.
Some of the types of businesses Prosper hopes to to see at the highway development include a gas station, a convenience food outlet and a coffee shop.
The highway project at Paqtnkek is expected to be completed in January 2019.