Nova Scotia premier seeks to ‘support’ First Nation after string of suicides

Premier Stephen McNeil says Nova Scotia is looking to find ways to support the province’s largest Mi’kmaq community after a string of suicides.

McNeil, who is also the province’s Aboriginal Affairs minister, said the province already funds a crisis call centre at Eskasoni First Nation and may “enhance” that funding.

“It’s been a real tragedy in Eskasoni in the last month and we’ve seen a number of people who felt in despair, where they did the unthinkable really in lots of ways,” McNeil told reporters after a cabinet meeting Thursday.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said last week multiple suicides have underscored the need for more health-care resources in the Cape Breton community.

Denny called on all levels of government to step up, noting that more long-term funding is needed for culturally informed mental health, trauma and addictions services.

“We’re looking at how do we support him,” McNeil, who spoke with Denny last week, said Thursday. “We’re looking at it from a provincial point of view and the crisis call centre, and other initiatives that we can do to help support him.”

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs has called on Ottawa to put more money into the crisis line and mental health supports for the roughly 4,500 people who are part of the Eskasoni First Nation.

Chief Bob Gloade of the congress called the situation “extremely urgent.”

The congress is asking for $600,000 in annual funding for the distress line, $150,000 for a clinical therapist, $75,000 for resources to support focus groups for people 20 to 40 years old and $90,000 for suicide prevention training.

McNeil said he has spoken with the local MP, Mark Eyking, about what they can do together and with Eskasoni.

“I would agree with the chiefs the federal government should play a role,” McNeil said.

“The crisis line in Eskasoni is one that has been used broadly for Mi’kmaq across the province, not just in Eskasoni. So we’re working with … the chief, he has some proposals into Aboriginal Affairs provincially but we would certainly welcome any help at the national level.”

Eskasoni health director Sharon Rudderham said last week the community has experienced multiple deaths, both expected and unexpected, intensifying its grief.

“The compounding effects and the re-traumatization that are impacting our community we believe require a more effective response to dealing with the situation,” she told a press conference at the Eskasoni Health Centre last week.

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