Sheila Bernard recognized the need for the elders of her community of Paqtnkek to have opportunities for social interaction and recreation. With a 2010 Rural Leadership Initiative Grant, Sheila created an elders program that was culturally specific, and included activities and events that integrated Mi’kmaw culture, traditions and language. During the program, 32 elders aged 55+ years enjoyed potluck suppers, traditional craft making, movie nights, card games, storytelling and field trips to visit elders in other communities. Sheila facilitated the elder circle meetings in the Mi’kmaw language which many of the elders still speak. They rediscovered the humor that is inherent in their language and it brought much laughter to their get-togethers.
The program was to run for sixteen weeks from January to May 2011, but it was extended so Sheila could produce a traditional Mi’kmaw calendar for the elders. The Mi’kmaw calendar follows the old lunar calendar of 13 months with 28 days each. Sheila’s calendar includes biographies and photos of the elders involved in the program and highlights important dates like National Aboriginal Day (June 21) and Treaty Day (October 1).
The Paqtnkek Elders embraced the activity program because they were able to focus on their own traditions and interests. It allowed the opportunity for dialogue on the need to interact and socialize with each other outside their homes, and to determine some of their own plans to remain strong as a group.