Metepenagiag Heritage Park project an amazing triumph for community

Posted on September 19, 2007
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Metepenagiag Heritage Park is an amazing triumph for the Mi’kmaq community also known as Red Bank. It is owned and operated by an independent community corporation, Metepenagiag Heritage Park Inc. Every element of the message it presents is the consensus of the community and its elders. It goes far beyond being the significant tourist attraction it will be. It is, more importantly, a powerful education tool for everyone and a source of pride and inspiration to all First Nations members.

From the time Joe Mike Augustine brought the Augustine Burial Mound to public attention in 1972, to the August, 2007, official opening of the ultra-modern facility, trails and grounds, determined community leaders overcame dozens of obstacles that often looked insurmountable.

At the same time, community and outside people joined Joe’s daughter, Madeline, in an almost fanatic dedication to her vision.

Metepenagiag chiefs, going back to the late Don Ward, followed a careful and deliberate path of negotiation with non-natives and consultation with the community and, especially, its elders.

Time and again they refused offers of help that would have taken possession and control away from the community.

They refused help for exploration that would have meant turning over any discovered artifacts to the national museum. They refused an offer from Parks Canada to build an exhibition facility that Parks Canada would have owned, built and operated according to their departmental policies.

Along the way, an almost miraculous series of events and people appeared at opportune moments to nudge the dream along.

If Joe Augustine had not realized what the Augustine Mound is just when he did, it would all be part of bridge abutments or house foundations now.

If St. Thomas University had not reached out to the First Nations community when it did, Madeline’s brother in law would not have been a student there and would not have been able to direct them to Professor Paul Morrissy, an anthropologist.

If the Province of New Brunswick had not just hired its very first archaeologist, Dr. Chris Turnbull, there would have been no one to realize the significance of the finding.

If Dr. Turnbull had not been so determined and so patient, Chief Don Ward and his council would never have decided to trust him and then Patricia Allen and to negotiate the respectful treatment of sacred and historic ground with them.

If Joe’s grandson, Noah Augustine, had not been able to pull together the making of the Conrad Beaubien film, “The Village of 30 Centuries,” the community and potential partners might never have truly realized the potential for Madeline’s vision.

If Pam Ward had not worked on an Oxbow dig as a student, been a very young band councilor when the first feasibility study was commissioned, or become the executive director of the project, it is hard to imagine it could have come to pass.

Winston Churchill once said that his life, going back to being a journalist in the Boer War, didn’t seem to have any particular aim until it turned out to have been the perfect preparation to the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain in WW II.

Patricia Dunnett’s life seems similarly pre-destined. She took a canoeing course in high school. She monitored and worked her way into a canoe making course organized by Pam Ward. She took a porcupine quill basket making course and then a Black Ash basket making course in the community. When Noah Augustine organized a New Brunswick Day Adventure package to Metepenagiag, she became the guide. She demonstrated her crafting knowledge. She conducted canoe rides in the canoes she had helped build in that course. She made regular calls to Madeline to learn the answers to visitors’ questions.

It was all the perfect preparation to be the first heritage interpreter at Metepenagiag Heritage Park.

Visitors who come out of the video presentation at the Park weeping and in awe of the stunningly beautiful community performers would agree that it is impossible to imagine a better manager of the creation of interpretive services than Wayne Kerr, a consultant with years of Parks Canada service.

People who observed Kerr in action know that he embraced the community driven idea for the park with a fierce dedication. Every move had to be endorsed by the MHP board and the elders. In tune with the community, he developed a presentation that emphasizes that, while the community history and culture are continuous for at least 3,000 years, the community is still alive and here, enduring and progressive.

Mike Hartop, who managed construction, guided the board into becoming its own general contractor. The building is not only beautiful and functional but is the most energy efficient in the province, has minimal operating costs and includes park and trail facilities not in the original budget.

Even the Mohawk barricades at Oka, in Quebec, contributed to the path to success. When First Nations there blockaded attempts to build a golf course on their ancient burial grounds, the Canadian government and its agencies realized it had to begin to listen to and negotiate with First Nations communities. That was a factor in changing Parks Canada policy about owning anything it supported.

It has been 35 years since Joe Mike Augustine made his fateful visit to the Augustine Mound. Times, people and attitudes have changed dramatically. Supporters and champions in government and its institutions have been recruited to the vision and dedication of the Mi’kmaq community champions in Metepenagiag.

Along the way, the process has become what is, in the words of Dr. Chris Turnbull, a model for how governments should conduct relations with First Nations.

Metepenagiag Heritage Park represents a significant milestone in the telling of the story of Canada.

David Cadogan

Conflict of interest disclaimer: It is only fair to mention that my wife, Michelle Cadogan, proprietor of MC² Marketing, is the marketing consultant contractor for Metepenagiag Heritage Park Inc. and that she engaged a local scribe, me, to write a series of articles for release to local and other media. Having said that, I also want to say that I am so proud of her work, with and for the community, I could burst. I know Metepenagiag community members will agree when I say that she performed far beyond the requirements of her contract. That can only be explained by her love for and bond to the women and men who brought Metepenagiag Heritage Park to reality. Having also fallen under their spell, I can appreciate the power of their inspiration, decency, kindness and determination. See the Metepenagiag category of this site for articles on the Park and the people involved.


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