Within the geographic boundaries of the MRC Avignon, there are three main cultural groups: French speakers, English speakers, and Mi’kmaq. Historically, there has been little cross cultural cooperation, socially or economically, but we are seeing signs of positive change.
The Mi’kmaq communities of Gesgapegiag and Listuguj present an interesting contradiction to some prominent socio-economic trends in MRC Avignon. Both Gesgapegiag and Listuguj have higher birth rates and a much lower mean age in sharp contrast to the aging population that is found in the majority of other communities. These First Nations communities are also leading the way in economic activity; existing businesses are expanding, and new enterprises are popping up regularly.
Since 2016, Gesgapegiag has developed Relais De La Cache, a lodging and restaurant business, the Chalets de L’Anse Ste-Hélène has expanded to include new chalets and renovated older buildings, and a Lobster Hut restaurant and rest stop area. Currently, a new gas station is being built next to land set aside for new retail space. All of this expansion during a time when neighbouring communities are closing up similar businesses.
CEDEC has been working to build partnerships across these cultural communities to generate economic activity within English-speaking communities. While these neighbouring communities have not traditionally collaborated, Listuguj and Pointe-à-la-Croix (a primarily English-speaking community) are now exploring tourism opportunities together which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
The MRC of Avignon is engaging financially in a trail system that is being planned for the territory of Gesgapegiag. Gesgapegiag has also been working with neighbouring Maria on tourism projects and economic development initiatives.
The work being led by CEDEC in the MRC of Avignon is helping to facilitate important partnerships between the three communities.
In the fall of 2018, CEDEC organized a series of Imagine Avignon consultations which brought together public sector, private sector and civil society leaders from the three cultural communities to explore opportunities for collaboration related to economic development. An outcome of these consultations was the creation of a new network and a partnership to organize a festival that would highlight the region’s rich tricultural features.
Tentatively set for mid-June, the festival planning committee is developing a four-day program that will bring together elements from all three cultures.
And the excitement in the community is building.
First Nations chefs are planning a gala supper in collaboration with regional suppliers. Musicians are planning a concert that will include a variety of genres. Local schools are examining ways to integrate the festival program in the school curriculum to create links between students of different backgrounds.
All of this activity is taking place against a backdrop of growing local interest in the concept of celebrating the richness of our cultural differences and generating new economic opportunities for all citizens.