Everything that benefits Pictou Landing First Nation (PLFN) is something Chief Andrea Paul focuses on deeply.
She has been the community’s chief for 10 years and is seeking re-election in November.
“I’ve lived at Pictou Landing First Nation my full 50 years,” she told members of the Rotary Club of Pictou, where she was guest speaker on Sept. 29. “I have dedicated my whole working life to my community.”
The chief is a two-year term that Paul would like see expanded to four years. She said two years is not enough time to grow in the role, make plans or demonstrate leadership.
Chief Paul described PLFN’s governance and administration and how complex it has become in areas that include education, housing, health and the community’s economy.
“We are a small entity with a lot of responsibility, such as taking over jurisdiction of health,” she said. “It’s been top down and that is what we’re trying to change. We’re economically driven, such as in fisheries, but we have a lot of small businesses. A lot of good things have happened in the last 10 years.”
Besides PLFN’s local lobster fishery, it also has a lobster and crab operation in Cheticamp, she said.
She also praised the new infrastructure that includes an administration office, fisheries buildings, fire department and a school with children from daycare age to Grade 8. It doubles as a community centre.
“I’m very proud of the school, very proud of the children,” she said.
Her talk coincided with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which the federal government designated a statutory holiday earlier this year. She said events on Sept. 29 included a tree planting and a survivor ceremony to commemorate those who survived or died while attending residential schools. PLFN included five residential school students who are still living.
Chief Paul said no activities took place in the community on Sept. 30.
“We decided for it to be a day of healing,” she said. “Next year, we can plan events.”
She shared her experiences growing up with her father and realizing much later in life that his abusive behaviour stemmed from his residential school experience.
“The pain was so raw,” she said. “Residential schools had an impact on students and had an impact on families. I saw why my dad was the way he was. I was able to learn more about residential schools and I built a relationship with him. He died in 2008. That was very traumatizing. I felt a void in my life because I was just getting to know him.”
She discussed how she values her background as a teacher and counsellor and how she enjoyed school, including her first years at Frank H. MacDonald School.
“Education was always an important thing,” she said. “I loved school. I loved learning. I couldn’t say I had a bad experience in school, except we were not allowed to speak our language.”
She said she appreciates what had been planned by others on Sept. 30 and hopes Canadians’ support for Indigenous people continues to strengthen and grow in a respectful way.
“It’s part of our history,” she said, regarding those children who suffered and died in residential schools. “Being an ally is taking time to listen.”