GLOOSCAP - Jordan Smith has an important role with a complicated title. She’s with the Mi’kmaq physical activity leadership program and is an active living coordinator or MPAL coordinator.
She’s essentially in charge of getting the community more physically active through sport and active living, but it also touches on the community’s rich culture and heritage as well.
It’s a role with funding split between the Mi’kmaq communities and the Province of Nova Scotia.
“The MPAL program has kind of grown into something that’s bigger than first anticipated,” she said.
“It was first envisioned about six years ago. It was in the municipalities before, and the concept was, the municipalities are serving the Mi’kmaq communities, so everything’s fine. But they found that they weren’t actually making those connections,” Smith continued.
“It was good in theory, but not in practice, so they started getting the MPAL (coordinators) into the Mi’kmaq communities,” she said. “That has worked out really well.”
Out of the 13 Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia, 11 have MPAL coordinators, including Glooscap.
Smith said the MPAL coordinators go far beyond developing a community’s athletic abilities or skills.
She’s been doing it now for over three years.
“Active living is really our tool that we use, and through sports, as a way to build and enhance a community,” she said. “It’s more about having people coming together through physical activity to work towards a common goal.”
Smith is in constant contact with her fellow MPAL coordinators around the province, sharing strategies and connections with each other.
“My goal isn’t to just put on programming in the community, which leaves when I leave, it’s to get our community members trained as the yoga instructor, rather than hiring from outside,” she said. “We’re building that capacity from within.”
Introducing Team Kespukwitk
Smith was born and raised in the Annapolis Valley, living off reserve at the time, but proud of her roots and culture as a member of Glooscap.
She took kinesiology from Acadia University and worked for the previous MPAL coordinator before taking on the role herself.
“I grew up outdoors, that’s where my passion lies,” she said. “I played every sport under the moon when I was growing up.”
Some of the programs she’s promoted at Glooscap include archery, moose hunting, running, lacrosse, pow wow dancing and more.
One of the biggest things she plans for year-round is the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Summer Games.
“When I started this role, my chief came to me and said, ‘we’ve never had a community member participate in the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Summer Games, and I’d really like to see that happen,’ so I was like, ‘OK, I have to make sure this happens,” she said.
“Early on I recognized some of the barriers we had. It’s hosted in a different community each year, but often in Cape Breton, so the distance, off the bat, is a challenge,” Smith said.
“We also have a pretty small community, so putting together a baseball team, with only a couple hundred people is a lot more difficult than, say Eskasoni, which has 4,000 people living there,” she added.
Given that, she worked with three other First Nation communities including Acadia, Annapolis Valley, and Bear River to create Team Kespukwitk.
Kespukwitk is a Mi'kmaq word, selected by the four chiefs, which means “end of the land,” describing the geographical location within Mi'kmak'i.
It allows athletes from the four communities to pool their resources and work together. Since this happened, Glooscap and the other First Nations have all been able to send athletes to the summer games.
Team Kespukwik sent 35 athletes last year, with Glooscap sending nine. And it’s been increasing every year.
Smith has also facilitated the learn-to-run team program at Glooscap, which she started as a student before becoming the MPAL coordinator.
“We had three athletes in our first year, and we just finished our fifth with a five-kilometre race and we had 37 who came out for the run,” she said. “The youngest was 12 years old, who had driven from Paqtnkek First Nation, and my oldest was 87. That was really cool to see.”
Smith says helping coordinate these athletic opportunities is rewarding for all involved.
“Some people I work with still cringe when I call them athletes, but I remind them that’s what they are, setting goals and sticking with it,” she said.
One of those athletes Smith has helped to reach their potential is Jasmine Collins, who began exploring archery after Smith introduced the program in 2016.
Collins has since gone on to become an archery coach herself, participating in the Mi’kmaq Summer Games every year since.
“Jordan is a great asset to our community not only in her position as Mi’kmaq physical activity coordinator but also as a member of Glooscap First Nation,” Collins said. “She is energetic, enthusiastic and pours her heart into her job every day.”
Collins said Smith’s main focus is on the community youth and elders, but is also open to new ideas from others and learning how to engage all ages.
“She brings the energy to the programming and allows members to feel comfortable and at ease,” Collins said. “She allows her personality to shine through, which creates an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and having fun.”