More than 100 people talk and laugh at a lunchtime feast at Eabametoong's community centre.  It's a much happier mood than this time last year. Back then, people were reeling from the deaths of their neighbours.

A year ago, Eabametoong First Nation, a remote community north of Thunder Bay, declared a state of emergency after three homicides and dozens of arson attacks.  

"We're starting to come together and I guess there's a healing process going on in the community," Ginger Wapoose said.

Her brother-in-law was killed last year. She said social gatherings have helped people move away from that violent time.

The feast, which took place Oct. 25, celebrated the opening of a new health centre.

Chief Harry Papah said that's just one of the initiatives improving life here.

"We see ... programs being opened for people and we see our detox centre open for community members. So we are seeing changes."


Constable Jason Baxter works for the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service in Eabametoong. (Nicole Ireland)

Increased police presence

The Nishnawbe Aski Police Service in Eabametoong  credits some of that change to extra law enforcement.

Constable Jason Baxter said violent crimes and arson attacks have gone down.  

"We had the OPP come in to assist with us for a year," he said.

Baxter said he’s keeping his fingers crossed that Eabametoong remains peaceful now that the provincial police officers have left.

Baxter said, although violence and arson attacks have decreased since last year, drug use is still a problem.

"Now that they're gone, I'm just worried that things will pick up and escalate to where they were last summer," he said.