‘This honestly could be the birthplace of North America, right here’
DEBERT – Shafts of sunlight cut through openings in the branches of near-leafless tees as a smiling Don Julien rounds a corner, reaching the end of his hike.
© Harry Sullivan - Truro Daily News
Dr. Donal Julien of Millbrook is seen walking along the Mi’kmawey Debert Interpretive Trail on Friday during 10th anniversary celebrations.
It is a beautiful fall day, just right for a leisurely trek through the woods and absolutely perfect for the type of celebration that greets Julien and other hikers as they complete the 4.4-km walk that makes up the Mi’kmawey Debert Interpretive Trail.
It is a milestone day – a full 10 years since the milestone opening of the interpretive trail that serves as not only a source of physical exercise and mental relaxation but to also educate visitors to the unique cultural aspects in the area.
“It’s very important to see how many people come out and help us celebrate 10 years. Just to mark a point in time,” says Julien, executive director of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq. “People in Debert know that we’re very serious in that in some point in time, having an interpretative centre here.”
A fair crowd has turned out for the day’s celebrations to make the trail’s 10th anniversary. As some belly up to the barbecue for a bite of lunch, others are gathered under a tent playing traditional aboriginal games. Nearby in another tent, a group of children quietly colour and work on word puzzles.
Still others, meanwhile, head out to the trail in pairs or as groups to the sounds of birds twittering in the trees.
Not far from where these celebrations are taking place is a site of major historic significance – the grounds from which have come more than 4,000 artifacts dating back some 13,000 years to a time when native communities lived at the base of what is now known as the Cobequid mountains amid an ice-age landscape.
During the 1970s, after the archaeological digs that followed the discovery of the artifacts, the federal government and province of Nova Scotia designated the area as a National Historic Site and as a protected site. In 1991, the concept of developing an interpretative cultural centre was born and has been in the works to some degree ever since.
Quote: “We envision a grandmother’s nest, where all things are gathered and shared. We expect it to be a place where the past is relived, explored and validated.” – Elders Advisory Council
The current hope is that the facility will be ready for opening in 2017 but, in the meantime, Julien said it is important for people in the area to know that interest from the Mi’kmaq community has not waned.
“We want to be part of the Debert community,” he says. “So with the presence here they know that we’re serious in building something here in the next few years or so.”
That is a sentiment that draws full agreement from Doug MacInnes, the Colchester County councillor for the area who has been monitoring Debert’s archaeological activities for many years.
“When you have a 13,000-year-old Paleo Indian site in your backyard it certainly is something to celebrate,” MacInnes says. “This honestly could be the birthplace of North America, right here. It’s very, very important.”
He says that, not only from a historic perspective, but also from the sense of what such a centre might do economically for the area through increased tourism and other visitation.
“They’re estimating approximately 80,000 visitors a year,” he says, of when the cultural centre is in operation. “That’s an awful lot of people coming to Central Nova Scotia and Colchester County. I think it’s something that all of us together as a culture and a community can benefit by.”