Indian Brook, NS

Shubenacadie/Indian Brook

Shubenacadie First Nation Land Holdings

  1. Indian Brook
  2. Shubanacadie 13 (Grand Lake)
  3. New Ross
  4. Pennal
  5. Wallace Hills

Introduction/History

The Shubenacadie First Nation was officially formed in 1820, when the parcel of land, now known as Indian Brook was officially established as a reserve.  Before this, however, the land had been used by Aboriginal people for centuries.  Oral history reports that the Mi’kmaq had traditionally used this land as a sacred site to prepare for hunting and fishing excursions as well as to perform holy rituals and ceremonies.  The years between 1700 and 1820, saw this site develop as a centre for mission work as well as to develop a permanent community where, it was hoped, aboriginal people would pursue more modern forms of sustenance including agriculture and craft production.  In the mid 1900’s, Indian Brook and the Shubenacadie Band was selected as the main site for centralization in mainland Nova Scotia.  First Nations people from all over the province were encouraged to move to the reserve with the promise of improved health care, living conditions and education.  Though the centralization policy was eventually abandoned, many people moved to the reserve, and today Indian Brook remains one of the largest Aboriginal communities in the province.

Demographics

The Shubenacadie Band has more than 2,400 members; approximately 1,100 of whom live on the reserve.  2006 Census information reveals that the community is relatively young—almost 50% of the population is under the age of 25.  A young population in Indian Brook implies a  (as well as immediate) need for increased employment and other financial resources such that Shubenacadie Band Members will live happy, healthy and meaningful lives in the years to come. 

Indian Brook is home to over 700 adults, many of whom have pursued formal training or education upon completion of high school.  145 band members living on reserve have completed an apprenticeship program, 95 have graduated from a college or non-university diploma program and 40 have completed a University degree.  It is also reported that many band members have completed numerous training programs through different government initiatives to help people access employment.  These training sessions, however, are viewed by many in the community as band aid solutions that either result in an oversupply of labour for the industry in question or show ignorance of the additional barriers aboriginal people face when accessing employment, including child care, transportation and fear of racism.

Despite the education and training that has been accessed by community members, income and employment in Indian Brook are relatively low.  Average employment earnings in 2005 were a mere $10,240 per person, a number which reflects both the lack of employment and seasonality of work available for people living on reserve.  2006 Census information indicate that over 60% of people living in Indian Brook rely on social assistance and other government transfers to meet their basic needs.  Of the people who are working, many work for the band or in jobs supported by government grants or other government programs, a reality which reflects the fact that few businesses or private ventures operate on reserve to boost economic activity.

Resources

The main resources available to Shubenacadie First Nation are land and location.   Though it gives every appearance of being a rural community, the location of Indian Brook (60kms from Halifax and 30kms from Truro) provides an excellent base from which to commute to the city for work.  Of course, the employment being accessed must provide enough to income to access transportation, including vehicle maintenance and fuel, but given the right training and employment opportunities many Indian Brook residents could be employed in more populated areas while still living in their home community.

In addition to the Indian Brook community, Shubenacadie Band owns 4 relatively large parcels of land: New Ross, Pennal, Grand Lake and Wallace Hills.  Both Grand Lake and Wallace Hills, which was returned to Shubenacadie Band ownership in 2011, are perceived as having great economic potential.  Located on a heavily trafficked highway in a commuter community, Wallace Hills is being planned as an opportunity for commercial development with the possibility of a residential neighbourhood as well.  Exactly what will be done in Wallace Hills is still in the initial planning stages, but the possibilities for revenue generation are vast. 

Grand Lake (officially known as Shubenacadie 13) is a parcel of land situated on a beautiful lake not far from the Halifax Regional Municipality.  Here again, the possibilities for commercial development are vast. Consultation with the Grand Lake community as well as the band membership will need to be conducted before any plans can move forward.  Furthermore, straightforward routes for accessing the site from public roads will need to be negotiated.

Economic Development

In the past, the economic development approach of Shubenacadie First Nation has been through stand alone business and employment initiatives.  Over the years, the band has implemented a number of business schemes, including a saw mill, a poultry farm, a pig farm and a bean sprout farm, a grocery store, a fishery supply store, a building supply store, and cabinetry training and supply, to name a few.  These endeavours have tended to be implemented with the best of intentions, but over the long-run have not been successful.  Reasons for this include the fact that each was an isolated project not directly tied to any set of community initiatives or goals, a lack of consumer support from the community and surrounding area, and the realities of a being a rural community. 

Prospects for the Future

When it comes to economic development in the future, there are many possibilities available to Shubenacadie First Nation.  From property and business development in Wallace Hills to partnerships and training opportunities with private enterprise, Shubenacadie is well positioned to achieve economic development and financial prosperity.  Public perception points to two main opportunities for economic development:

  1.  Business development—both private and band owned ventures
  2. Facilitating connection to off reserve employment

In order to guarantee the success of initiatives pursued in the future the band must develop a strategy, with a clear set of goals and outcomes to be achieved, that each initiative will promote and enhance.  For example, many barriers to off reserve employment, including no access to transportation, have been identified.  Providing access to low cost transportation to and from areas where employment is available may be one way to assist community members in accessing paid work. 

Commercial developments in Wallace Hills and, possibly, Grand Lake have the potential to play an important role in economic development.  There are many details that must still be worked out, but the developments are expected to produce many ‘spin offs’ for the community, aside from revenue for the band, including additional employment, sense of pride in community membership and residential homes for people who want to work or attend school in the Halifax area.

Strengths, Assets and Challenges

Interviews with key informants show that the people of Shubenacadie First Nation are perceived to be the most important asset of the Band.  The community has faced many challenges in the past, but the people have proven to be resilient.  The community is close knit; which can be both a strength and a challenge, depending on the prevailing attitude towards relationships.  Though the people can put aside their differences in an emergency, the community is politically divided, a situation which has proven detrimental to achieving health and prosperity.  Most people agree that eradicating poverty and promoting economic development is an important goal to work towards, but the community cannot agree on how to go about achieving this goal.  Some believe privately owned businesses are the way to move forward, while others believe that band owned businesses for revenue and job creation are more likely to benefit the community as a whole.

Other community strengths and assets, many of which have been discussed above, include land parcels, such as Wallace Hills and Grand Lake; the young and growing population; relatively short commute distances to both Truro and Halifax; and the revenue the community receives from VLT machines and the fishery.

The main challenge faced by the band is uniting the community to develop and follow through on an approach for governance and economic development.  Division in the community and on council has paralyzed the decision making process and caused councilors to become involved in the small details of constituent well-being that, in more successful communities, are made by band employees who are guided by rules, regulations and procedures to ensure the fair treatment of everyone. 

Community division has also led to distrust.  No longer do the people trust council to make the right decision or even ensure financial accountability, nor do they trust other figures of authority or people employed to manage communal finances and activities.  In large part, this distrust is evident in social media, where people are constantly questioning the decisions made by government officials.  Furthermore, social media, including Facebook, continues to facilitate the spread of false rumours and misinformation which causes further distrust, division and upheaval.  As a result, decisions that are made are often overturned or rejected by community members and council members alike and the government is forced to go back to the drawing board time and again.

Further complicating community relationships and decision making is the lack of a community supported vision and/or strategy for community development, economic development or even community well-being.  Without a vision and strategy in place, the people do not have a coherent set of goals to work towards that guide the decision making process for any initiative or activity proposed or considered by the government.

Conclusion

Overall, Shubenacadie First Nation is poised for prosperity.  Human resources within the community are plentiful and growing, as are opportunities for off-reserve employment and on-reserve business development.  In order to harness the potential and access these opportunities, the band needs a strong and detailed plan, one that is supported by all members of council and has buy in from the community.  Moving forward, the community must build trust, reduce barriers to accessing employment and education, and unite around a common vision for economic development, health and prosperity; a vision that may ultimately lead to improved well-being and quality of life for the entire community.

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