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Trudeau announces two multimillion-dollar agreements with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia

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WHYCOCOMAGH, N.S. -

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked National Indigenous Peoples Day in central Cape Breton on Friday, where he announced a $125-million agreement with the We'koqma'q First Nation to settle a dispute over reserve land sold in 1862.

The prime minister made the announcement in Whycocomagh, N.S., where members of the First Nation say an improper sale deprived them of the opportunity to benefit economically from the land, which has a lake on one side and a mountain on the other.

Trudeau called the agreement "another significant step on the path to reconciliation" between the Crown and the Cape Breton First Nation. "This is reconciliation in action," he told the crowd gathered outside the local community centre.

The prime minister also paid tribute to all Indigenous Peoples on their national day of recognition, which was first celebrated in 1996.

"From elders to knowledge keepers to political leaders and protectors of our lands and waters, we recognize your important contributions," he said. "We need to value and to recognize and to celebrate Indigenous Peoples and the cultures, languages and strengths that they have always brought to this extraordinary land."

The 1,100 members of the We'koqma'q band will be asked to vote on the proposed settlement, which has been many years in the making. No date has been set for the vote.

"We have been doing this for the last hundreds of years and we have been fighting, and this is how far we got," said interim Chief John Leonard Bernard. "Now it's up to the people of our community to go where we need to go after this."

The agreement was made possible by the federal government's specific claims program, which was launched in 1973 to address past wrongs involving the lands and assets of First Nations. As of May 31, the program has settled 704 claims worth $15.2 billion in compensation.

Also on Friday, Trudeau announced $16 million in annual funding aimed at helping 12 of Nova Scotia's 13 Mi'kmaq communities repair, replace and maintain education infrastructure.

"Fairness starts with better access to education for everyone," the prime minister said.

The money will be given to the Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, which brings together Indigenous chiefs, staff, parents and educators to advocate for the interests of about 3,000 students.

The group's executive director, Blaire Gould, said the investment in education amounts to "investing in the present and future."

"With better education, Mi'kmaq youth are better able to understand their opportunities and to truly walk a path of self-determination," Gould said in a statement. "This is important not just to an individual, but rather a family, a community, and most importantly, a nation."

Earlier in the day, the prime minister was greeted at a local park by Mi'kmaq youth drumming group known as White Bear.

The prime minister took part in a history and storytelling session with about 100 students and Indigenous leaders who gathered at the Skye River Trail Park inside the We'koqma'q First Nation.

At one point, grand council member Phillip Prosper spoke about Mi'kmaq legends and traditions.

Among those at the event was Trudeau's 16-year-old son, Xavier, as well as Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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