On a Tuesday evening earlier this fall, the growing crowd in the community gym at Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation was all smiles.

Amid the spirited conversations, community members gathered around tables to work on crafts and other creative projects. It’s part of a 12-week Nitap (friendship) program headed by Karla Stevens in collaboration with the Paqtnkek Community Health Center, the Municipality of the County of Antigonish Recreation department and volunteers.

Community Support

“We ran the program for 19 weeks until it ended this past June,” says Stevens, who is also from Paqtnkek. “Now, with the help of a $10,000 donation from Peace by Chocolate entrepreneur Tareq Hadhad and $3,000 from Sustainable Antigonish, we’re able to meet for six weeks in each of the next four seasons.”

In fact, a portion of the proceeds from Hadhad’s ‘Nitap Bar’ – created especially for Paqtnkek – helps raise funds to continue the program without government support.

Chief Paul (PJ) Prosper says the Band’s leadership is proud of what the program has become. “It has brought together community members on a variety of projects. It represents an excellent collaboration with our neighbours and community organizers to help support community health and well-being.”

Awareness, Acceptance and Action

The weekly Nitap get-togethers are more than casual drop-in events. The program is purposefully planned to create an atmosphere of inclusion, friendship and relaxed engagement. There is an intentional focus on passing on and sharing Indigenous knowledge.

“What’s unique is that all activities are rooted in an Indigenous approach that supports a higher quality of life, resilience, spirituality and well-being,” adds Stevens.

Councilor Tma Francis says it’s nice to see the smiles. “This program has been nothing but positive and successful from day one. We’re very proud of Karla, the team leads, and everyone involved.”

Stevens credits her team, which includes Juliana Julian, Frank Gallant and Heather Mayhew of Peak Experiences, Marlene Melanson and Amy-Leigh George. The Nova Scotia Mental Wellness team and the Mi’kmaq Family Treatment Centre also play important roles.

A quick look at the fall lineup shows a wide range of creative activities, including moccasin making, cutting boards, cheese boards, wooden spoons, beading pop sockets, Halloween candy, sweetgrass lids, wood-burning, gathering brush and making wreaths.

Most sessions include some form of recreational activity to help get the blood flowing and limbs moving.

The Tuesday evening sessions at Paqtnkek are open to adults 18 years of age and older. The program also covers the cost of childcare and refreshments.

If you would like to learn more about the Nitap program, contact Karla Stevens by email at karla@awrcsasa.ca or by phone at (902) 318-5158.

Photo credits: Frank Gallant, Peak Experiences and Karla Stevens.

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