We'koqma'q First Nation in Cape Breton had its achievements formally recognized on Saturday when it was presented with the Lieutenant Governor's Community Spirit Award by Lt.-Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc.
The community of around 1,000 people is on the shores of Bras d'Or Lake.
Describing the event at First Nation's community hall as "organic," "beautiful," and "full of pride," Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley said she is intensely proud to have her community recognized in this way.
The chief said although every community is unique and has diversity, We'koqma'q First Nation is "unsurpassed."
"It's diverse. It's unique. It's supportive," Bernard-Daisley said. "Good times, bad times, hard times, sorrow times, we're just there for each other no matter what."
Having successfully navigated the pandemic, Saturday's presentation raised morale and gave the community yet another reason to celebrate, according to the chief.
She said everyone at We'koqma'q First Nation does their part and leadership throughout the generations had helped shape and define the community.
She said band councillor Jason Bernard had recommended the community apply for the award and Storm Gould, the community's executive director, completed the application last year.
Gould said having grown up in the community, there's something very special and supportive about We'koqma'q First Nation that makes it unique.
"Over 90 per cent of our band members actually have stayed in the community," he said.
"Not only is it rare for First Nations communities to have such a high rate of retention, but it's especially rare in rural Cape Breton where you see more and more people flying to urban areas."
Gould credits resilience for the strong community spirit.
He said many people relocated to Eskasoni "by false pretences or by force" during the days of the federal government's centralization policy in the 1940s. but some stayed behind and some moved back and kept the community alive.
He said it would have been easy to let the community fall apart but through dedication and commitment they kept it together and that led to the close community spirit that exists today.
'A win for everyone'
Even during the height of the pandemic, he said the community pitched together to create a food bank to meet the needs of the community.
Describing his community as "one of the best kept secrets in Cape Breton and Nova Scotia," Gould said the award helps to shine a spotlight on the community and its people.
"I think overall it's a win for everyone," Gould said. "It's a win for First Nations communities. It's a win for rural Nova Scotia."
The awards celebrate "the power, strength and diversity of vibrant communities across Nova Scotia. It profiles their achievements and increases their visibility through a formal recognition program."
Up to four communities are honoured each year. Communities selected promote citizen engagement, civic pride and a positive outlook.
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