Nova Scotia opens first long-term care home serving Mi’kmaq seniors

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, third from left, takes part in a prayer and greeting ceremony before touring the long-term care facility Kiknu being built in Eskasoni First Nation on Cape Breton Island, N.S. on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese.

Nova Scotia opened its first long-term care facility in a First Nations community on Wednesday, realizing a decades-old ambition for its host community.

A ceremony marking the opening of the 48-room facility was held in the Cape Breton Mi’kmaq community of Eskasoni.

Chief Leroy Denny said the idea for the home was first conceived about 20 years ago, and after a feasibility study and lobbying campaign, ground was broken on construction four years ago.

“I’m just amazed,” Denny said. “We are breaking a glass ceiling here. We do need these facilities in our communities, and I think this is an historic day here in Eskasoni.”

The care home is named Kiknu, a Mi’kmaq word that is pronounced Gig-new and means “our home.” Offering culturally responsive services to Mi’kmaq seniors from across the province, its design and care-management plan were guided by discussions with Eskasoni elders.

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The home is shaped like a turtle, evoking the Indigenous reference to North America as Turtle Island. The central indoor gathering place includes seven poles — which represent the seven sacred teachings of the Mi’kmaq — and a graphical representation of a healing circle for traditional ceremonies.

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Denny said he hopes the concept for the home becomes a model for other Indigenous communities across the country.

“We have to take care of our elders,” he said. “If we take care of our elders, we are taking care of our language and our culture and traditions.”

The new home is owned by the Eskasoni First Nation, which will partner with private long-term care provider Shannex to operate the facility. Ottawa contributed $19.6 million and the province $11.6 million for the construction of the home, whose residents are scheduled to begin moving in next week.

The provincial Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care will provide the annual operating budget, which covers expenses for such things as mortgage payments and staffing. According to the department, each new long-term care room in its system is funded at an estimated $160,000 a year.

Denny said the facility has created 70 jobs for community members who will work as continuing care assistants and administrators, as well as maintenance and kitchen staff.

Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Barbara Adams said seniors from Nova Scotia’s 13 Mi’kmaq communities will be given priority for placement at Kiknu, although the facility is also open to anyone who applies for placement in Nova Scotia’s long-term care system.

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“It is going to ensure that the Eskasoni community and the bands across the province are going to have a nursing home that reflects the Mi’kmaq culture,” Adams said. “To see it with all of the elements incorporated by the community is really breathtaking.”

The minister also said that beginning in the fall, Eskasoni will offer culturally appropriate training courses through Cape Breton University’s school of nursing for people who will work in the home. Adams said such training is already part of the curriculum at the Nova Scotia Community College.

“This has been a collaboration with the entire Mi’kmaq community,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024.

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