New Nova Scotia aboriginal crisis counselling service launches

Two Mi’kmaw sisters in Nova Scotia are launching a crisis counselling service that combines mental health support with traditional spiritual practices.

'Reconnection to our culture again is part and parcel of healing,' says counsellor Robyn Hazard

Sisters Robyn Hazard, left, and Mindy Gallant-Zwicker demonstrate the Mi'kmaw smudging practice. (Submitted by Robyn Hazard)

Two Mi'kmaw sisters are launching a crisis counselling service for people living on reserves in mainland Nova Scotia.

Alsusuti Aboriginal Crisis Counselling Services will combine mental health support with traditional spiritual practices.

"Our goal is to try to make sure that we are incorporating our culture at all times," said Robyn Hazard, who lives in Lunenburg.

Hazard worked with Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services for more than four years before leaving to earn a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University.

"I want to do something that's helpful to the community and something that I'm not so restricted by policies and mandates that I can't help the community as times change," Hazard said.

Home visits crucial 

Health Canada says for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age, suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death.

Getting help at home is important because travelling to appointments is challenging for clients without access to cars or public transportation, Hazard said.

The home visits will be paid for by Health Canada through the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program and the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program.

"The client does not have to put up any money. All they have to is call, indicate they are in crisis. We respond, and our company and NIHB look after everything on the back end," Hazard said.

Many incidents could trigger an urgent need for mental health care, she said.

"If you suddenly lost a family member and don't know how to cope. If you were suddenly injured and became handicapped and didn't know what to do with yourself. If you were assaulted or physically attacked," Hazard said.

Sisters Mindy Gallant-Zwicker and Robyn Hazard are launching a crisis counselling service for Mi'kmaw people in mainland Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Robyn Hazard)

'A sense of reconnection'

Hazard's sister, Mindy Gallant-Zwicker of Glooscap First Nation, is the company's owner and will handle traditional healing elements of the service, such as smudging and drumming.

"Smudging is really important to the community because it gives you a sense of cleansing and it gives you a sense of relief and a sense of connection back to your own culture," Hazard said.

Traditional drumming can play a similar clinical role as meditation, she said.

"We'll be using drumming in place of relaxation techniques or drumming to help us re-centre ourselves," Hazard said.

"That reconnection to our culture again is part and parcel of healing."

About the Author

Jack Julian


Jack Julian is a data journalist in the Halifax newsroom. This is a new position, and he's excited about it. He likes surprises in his stories. Email: Twitter: @jackjulian