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Membertou Heritage Park manager says public needs to learn about Mi'kmaq

Jeff Ward is the general manager of the Membertou Hertiage Park and the program co-ordinator of LOVE N.S. CONTRIBUTED
Jeff Ward is the general manager of the Membertou Heritage Park and the program co-ordinator of LOVE N.S. CONTRIBUTED
MEMBERTOU, N.S. —

Mi’kmaq spirituality balances Jeff Ward and shapes his life mission to change the way people perceive Mi'kmaq culture.

“It allows me to take away that fear, people fear spirituality, they fear treaties and that fear creates indifference,” said the general manager of the Membertou Heritage Park.

“By learning, people will understand who we are. That education takes away that fear and brings us back to balance.”

The 46-year-old is from Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, about 150 km northwest of Moncton, N.B. He moved to Membertou First Nation about 13 years ago, after falling in love with his wife Stephanie Elaine Gould.

Self care during COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED
Self care during COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED

Many Indigenous spiritual and cultural practices were banned by the Indian Act until 1951, but after years of being outlawed many were still hesitant to take part. Ward said these practices are being reclaimed and uncovered — they were never lost, just hidden.

In Membertou, the forgiveness ceremony, apiksiktatimkewey, was brought back into practice in recent years.

It's because of Mi’kmaq culture that he’s here.

“My wife said, ‘You stay here,’ and I did,” said Ward. “The wife is the boss; she is the home and she carries the medicines.”

The couple has four adult children and one grandson, Elijah.

Ward’s entire outlook on life is shaped by Mi’kmaq spiritually. Three of his uncles were pipe carriers and his father instilled in him to live a life of helping others. Ji’nm is the Mi’kmaq word for man and Ward says its root meaning is “to be there.”

His father, Sylvester Ward, told him to check on his elders in the community, so he would chop wood, shovel the church steps and collected medicines for others. Now, he says the best way to help is to teach others about the Mi’kmaq.

“We come from this land and we’ve been here since time immemorial,” said Ward.

The heritage park in Membertou is currently closed because of COVID-19 restrictions but Ward says his job is about teaching the untold truths about Mi’kmaw history, spirituality and treaty rights. He loves seeing people coming to understand the value of Mi’kmaq knowledge and what it has brought to the world.

Ward is learning himself and is grateful for community elders like Terry Paul, Janey Meader, Dan Christmas and Pauline Bernard.

They asked him what the opposite of love was, and he said he always thought it was hate. But they told him none of us are born with hate, but we are all born with fear, fear of the unknown. And that’s shaped his mission to educate others.

Jeff Ward's bead work. CONTRIBUTED
Jeff Ward's beadwork. CONTRIBUTED

"It all kind of clicked, people do not know about us Mi’kmaq people. And if they don’t know about us, they fear us,” said Ward.

He’s taken the time to catch up on sleep and do beadwork during COVID-19 social distancing measures.

Another group he’s involved with, the Sons of Membertou, offered up the honour song through social media. They sang together from four different houses and Ward says everyone should practice the safety measures.

He’s a social guy by nature but is focusing on things he can control. He’s running the LOVE — leave out violence — group meetings through the Zoom app, educating some people about Indigenous medicines and encouraging everyone to live holistically, because “balance is happiness.”

“We’re in this together,” said Ward.

Oscar Baker III is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position being funded by the federal government. He lives in Sydney.

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