First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties con­tinue to grow

Un­ima’ki com­mu­ni­ties go­ing against trend for rest of is­land

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID JALA

Cape Bre­ton’s First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties are buck­ing the trend when it comes to lo­cal pop­u­la­tion growth.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est 2016 Canada cen­sus data, re­leased by Statis­tics Canada on Wed­nes­day, all five Un­ima’ki com­mu­ni­ties ex­pe­ri­enced a pop­u­la­tion in­crease since the pre­vi­ous cen­sus in 2011.

Over that time pe­riod, the num­ber of is­land Mi’kmaq climbed from 6,020 to 6,311, while Eska­soni, the prov­ince’s largest Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity, saw its pop­u­la­tion in­crease from 3,309 to 3,222. Mem­ber­tou ex­pe­ri­enced a more than 10 per cent hike and now has more than 1,000 res­i­dents. And, the three smaller com­mu­ni­ties, Why­co­co­magh, Wag­mat­cook and Pot­lotek (Chapel Is­land), also all recorded pos­i­tive pop­u­la­tion growth.

Those num­bers be­lie what is hap­pen­ing in the rest of Cape Bre­ton. The new data, com­piled on May 10 of last year, lists the is­land’s pop­u­la­tion at 132,010, down from the 2011 cen­sus that counted 135,974 peo­ple liv­ing on the east side of the Canso Cause­way.

Ex­perts at­tribute the con­tin­u­ing de­cline in large part to the loss of key in­dus­tries over the past cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions and the lure of good-pay­ing jobs in Western Canada.

But with lo­cal politi­cians and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment peo­ple look­ing for so­lu­tions to re­verse the trend, Mi’kmaq lead­ers like Eska­soni Chief Leroy Denny are fac­ing en­tirely dif­fer­ent chal­lenges.

“We have a very young com­mu­nity — the ma­jor­ity of our pop­u­la­tion is between 18 and 34 and last year there were 95 new ba­bies in Eska­soni,” said Denny.

“Our school pop­u­la­tion is about 1,200 stu­dents and we have to be con­cerned about that and hous­ing and jobs for our peo­ple, so we do have a lot of chal­lenges.”

Denny also said that with their strong fam­ily ties, most young Mi’kmaq want to re­main in Cape Bre­ton and have lit­tle de­sire to move west.

“They want to stay in Cape Bre­ton, our peo­ple do not want to leave their ter­ri­tory,” he said. “These young peo­ple are our fu­ture and we have to pro­vide for them — we need to be able to give them jobs.”

But the chief said he’s op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture de­spite the eco­nomic chal­lenges fac­ing Cape Bre­ton.

“I’m see­ing our peo­ple get­ting in­volved in more and more of the new projects hap­pen­ing around the is­land — a lot has changed and I’m start­ing to feel more pos­i­tive be­cause our peo­ple, they are get­ting more in­volved,” said Denny, who added that Cape Bre­ton First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties are be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly more im­por­tant part of the is­land’s econ­omy.

While the 2016 data has yet to be re­leased, the 2011 cen­sus fig­ures re­vealed there were more than 1,400,000 Cana­di­ans with an Abo­rig­i­nal iden­tity. That fig­ure rep­re­sented 4.3 per cent of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion.

Denny

DAVID JALA/CAPE BRE­TON POST

Proud par­ents R.J. and Juelz Gould, of Eska­soni, show off baby Ram­say Roswell just hours af­ter the 7-lbs., 12-ounce boy was the first baby de­liv­ered in Cape Bre­ton in 2017, ar­riv­ing at 2:09 a.m. on Jan. 1. Ram­say is the cou­ple’s fourth child. Re­cently re­leased fig­ures show that Cape Bre­ton’s five Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties are in­creas­ing in pop­u­la­tion while the rest of the is­land is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pop­u­la­tion de­cline.

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