Reclaiming their Power: Economic Reconciliation

Posted on February 29, 2024 | By Moira Donovan | 0 Comments


Point Tupper Park (File photo, 2018)

Indigenous organizations are leveraging economic reconciliation to build stronger communities

If you were looking for a community to represent the power of Indigenous economic development, Membertou would be a good place to start.

In the early 1900s, Sydney, NovaScotia, was a town on the rise, buoyed by a 19th-century influx of immigrants, and then by the opening of a steel plant in 1901. Amid this prosperity, along the Sydney Harbour, was the Kings Road Reserve, or Kun’tewiktuk, home to dozens of Mi’kmaw families who worked in, and contributed to, the economy of the town.

But in 1926, the families of the Kings Road Reserve were moved against their will to a landlocked site a kilometer away, which became known as Membertou. The forced relocation—prompted by decades of lobbying from a local landowner and MP—did more than disrupt the community’s relationship to the land. By severing people’s connection to their livelihoods, it fueled a cycle of dependence on the federal government, high unemployment and indebtedness.

Their fortunes shifted dramatically in the 1990s under the leadership of Chief Terry Paul and the band council. From a marginalized community, Membertou has transformed itself into one of the largest employers in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. In 2023, it generated over $85 million in revenue—from fisheries, commercial sales and real estate—as well as leading historic acquisitions in the seafood industry and pursuing opportunities in green energy.

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