Elders in Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick say they need a nursing home in their community to better suit their cultural and language needs.
Noel Augustine, 72, a keptin of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, said most seniors in the community about 55 kilometres north of Moncton are Mi'kmaw speakers, but the long-term care homes outside of the community only offer care in the province's two official languages.
He said the people he knows that go into nursing homes struggle with loneliness.
"But if we were to have one here, their grandchildren could visit anytime of the day," said Augustine.
Anita Joseph, 72, has worked at the community's seniors centre for five years. It's a place for seniors to socialize — they can gather, share stories, drink tea and do puzzles — but isn't a medical facility.
Anita Joseph says elders she's spoken to want to see a nursing home in the community to meet their medical needs, in their language. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)
Joseph said the centre offered some training to help seniors with dementia but what the seniors tell her they really want is a long-term care facility that meets their medical needs — and where they can be served in Mi'kmaw.
"When you get to a place and they don't talk Mi'kmaw, you lose it, and that's hard," said Joseph.
"We want to talk our own language and be taken care of by our own people."
According to Elsipogtog census data from 2016, out of a total population of about 1,900 there were 125 people over the age of 65 and of those, 115 listed Mi'kmaw as their first language. All said they also spoke English, while 10 reported speaking both English and French.
Jennifer Dobblesteyn, a health care researcher, conducted a two-year study on how well prepared Elsipogtog is for helping elders stay in their homes for life.
She said the research shows elders need both assisted living and long-term care facilities that understand Mi'kmaw culture and language because the elders told her they don't feel safe or understood when they speak English.
Dobbelsteyn said elders told her when they go to facilities off-reserve like in nearby Rexton, N.B., they miss out on the annual moose hunts, where community members are given portions of the moose meat.
"It's only down the road, but it's farther than that," Dobbelsteyn said.
"It's worlds away from the world they know."
In Fredericton where she's based she can count 13 services for senior citizens like retirement living facilities and respite care, while in Elsipogtog, the largest Mi'kmaw community in New Brunswick, she counted three types of services.
"So many things, hospice care, respite care, all the things that are on the continuum of long term care, are not yet built and the demand is growing," said Dobblesteyn.
Elsipogtog chief and council were not available for comment. Nation administrator Francis Simon said in a written statement to CBC Indigenous that over the past few years work was done to try and secure a elders care facility.
"Regrettably, the community's latest funding application was not approved," the statement said.
"Though this is an unfortunate setback, especially for a community of our size, the plan is to continue to work with our elders, staff and partners to ensure that this essential service is made available to our elders and our community."