ESKASONI, N.S. — Kiknu, which translates to "our home" in English, had its official sod-turning ceremony in Eskasoni on Friday.
The initiative is a joint funding effort from the federal and provincial governments and the health-care home will incorporate Mi’kmaq language and culture. And for community elder Georgina Doucette it's very much needed.
“What happens is that when elders are placed in homes off the reserve, they usually just give up living because there's no contact with the community, no language and hearing that language on a daily basis that’s important,” said the 78-year-old.
“It gives them the reason to keep living.”
Doucette is a residential school survivor and sits on the Eskasoni health board and she's heard from other elders how difficult it is to navigate the health-care system when their first language is Mi’kmaw. That’s why she’s so happy the facility is being built and hopes other communities can offer their elders a chance to go home.
Chief Leroy Denny expressed similar sentiments.
“Many of our elders and community members are staying in care homes around Cape Breton and we want to take them home,” said Denny.
Also reiterating that Mi’kmaw language and culture would be core to the long-term care home, Denny was excited to see more Mi’kmaw speaking health-care professionals and wanted to ensure staff spoke it at the home.
The federal government committed $19.7 million to the endeavour while the provincial government committed $6.563 million to the home. And Denny believes the home will create 70 new jobs in the community, helping them become even more self-sufficient.
“We really needed our own health-care home here. And we’re a self-sustaining community, we can do stuff here,” said Denny.
Construction on the long-term care facility is scheduled to finish Aug. 2022 and it sits on recently purchased land on the edge of the community and Castle Bay.
Jaime Battiste, MP for Sydney-Victoria, is the first Mi’kmaw MP in Canadian history and says the Eskasoni initiative is vital to preserving language and culture.
“We’re all trying to save the language and the wisdom and what they learned in their lives,” said Battiste.
He also felt the long-term care was vital to ensure any elders' remaining time was comfortable and language was the core of that.
Battiste also thinks this initiative may inspire other Indigenous nations to try and create one of their own. He knows Eskasoni’s population of over 4,500 is unique but caring for elders is a lesson in many nations.
That’s something Doucette is hoping for.
“I think everyone will take pride in this and other communities will come up with their own homes and keep their elders in the community,” she said.
Denny says the community is still on schedule for the installation of their fibre op and opening of the telecommunications company Eskasoni Communications. He's aware the internet is badly needed for some residents.
As for the long-term care home, he knows it was a need too.
“It was a community effort and especially our elders it was their vision and we helped make it a reality,” said Denny.
Oscar Baker III, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post