Emails reveal urgent concerns about gas sniffing

Derek Montague
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Shotguns and ammunition seized from a home in Natuashish where children are alleged to have been sniffing gas. — RCMP submitted photo

TC Media/Happy Valley-Goose Bay —

In a span of just two days, the community of Natuashish has two confirmed cases of children sniffing gas inside residences.

In the first incident, which happened Tuesday morning, three children were caught sniffing inside a home they broke into.

“The kids broke into a house and I got called in by a resident,” says Mushuau Chief Simeon Tshakapesh. “I intervened in that break and enter (where) there was also solvent abuse. RCMP was also helping me.”

The second incident on Wednesday evening is the most disturbing. Seven children were found sniffing gas while left unsupervised in a residence. Shotguns and ammunition were in the house while the incident occurred.

After the first gas sniffing incident, emails between Tshakapesh and other officials — forwarded to TC Media by an inside source — highlight the urgency of the situation in Natuashish.

Just before 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, Tshakapesh sent an email to Lyla Andrew, who works with Child Youth and Family Services, highlighting his concerns, and recommending the children be sent to the Innu treatment centre in Border Beacon.


I know RCMP and others have been reported about kids and young people sniffing in Natuashish for some time, and as we discuss at our last meeting that children are breaking into homes and sniffing inside homes. I am concern that someday they will light lighter and smoke cigarettes while they sniffed and they Will caught on fire on them self's or even caught house fire with sniffer in them. It happen alot already some kids have burn while sniffing and weather is getting mild and I am sure I don't need to tell you this.

My option for our children who are in solvent abuse we should act now and put them in border beacon and try to detox them and work with them and their families … I think you people have to be involved with parents and work with us …


Minutes after Tshakapesh’s email was sent, a mental health worker in Natuashish, Klaus Muller, sent a much more frantic email, which is addressed to Tshakapesh and Andrew. Muller agrees with sending the children to Border Beacon, and criticizes the child protection services that are in place, saying children are “slipping through the system.”


(U)ntil we can establish successfully several parenting programs our need is urgent to provide a safe place for these children where they will receive addiction and other counselling services. In this I completely support Chief Tshakapesh's proposal to have these and other children sent to Border Beacon. … I can not stress enough the urgency for support in this and firmly believe that in the very near future if not tonight a child or several will be physically harmed by accidental fire in their diminished and mental state and or will burn in the homes that they have broken into to gas sniff. The numbers are GROWING and the average age of the children becoming younger. … As child protection numbers are increasing and the semi presence of a single child protection worker over-worked on a 120 plus case load, children are slipping through the system designed to be a safety net … many of these children will be today's or tomorrow's casualty or death. Emergency funding is needed to send these youth to Border Beacon where they will be supervised and treated not only for their gas sniffing addiction but for additional health needs with respect to the Mushuau Innu culture …


A couple of hours later, Andrew responded to Tshakapesh’s first email. In it, she describes the challenges of dealing with gas sniffing on a case-by-case basis. She mentions at the end of the email the “limited resources” they are dealing with in Natuashish.

As you know, our job is to try and address specific situations of risk for children under 16. We continue to receive reports from the RCMP about youth and adults over 16.  Even though I frankly don’t know how to help with these older youth and young adults who are sniffing, I believe they are drawing vulnerable younger children into the subculture of gas sniffing …

One child, about to turn 16, was recently returned to her guardian’s custody. Sadly, that appears to be a situation that is not working out as we would have hoped for either her or her guardian …     

In order to decide what responses might be best for an individual child we have to take into consideration that some parents or guardians at this time are not able to keep their children safe … some parents or guardians do not seem to understand or accept that their behaviors and choices are directly contributing to their child’s sniffing behavior.… Not every parent asks or wants their children who are sniffing to be placed in a program away from the community, but in the immediate term, it is often the only way to ensure a child’s safety and to get the attention or time of the parents to begin to work with them.

We are all working with limited resources and need to agree how responses to individual situations can best be coordinated …


After Wednesday night’s incident involving the seven children, Tshakapesh sent a second email. This one was sent to Debra Keays-White, regional executive of First Nations and Inuit Health Board. Now, after two incidents of gas sniffing in two days, Tshakapesh was clearly frustrated.


I have written emails about my concern for past three years now since I am in power and requesting some assistance from Health Canada about solvent abuse with kids in Natuashish …

I cannot sit idly anymore and watch young children destroying their brain cells and the child neglect to continue from care givers of these young children …

Federal Government has to find some funds now to deal with this complex problem Gas sniffing Natuashish along with us as Innu people.…

I am sick and tired the resistance from your department Debra keays whites and your Federal counter parts when we as Innu want to help our young people about solvent abuse.

Tonight was very hard night when we found children with RCMP and myself as chief.  Under 9 and 12 years old children seven kids in home where parents out drinking and parents has left them behind went to goose bay to drink.


Keays-White responded in an email that indicates the band council won’t be getting any additional funding for the community’s gas sniffing problem. She mentions in the email that the band gets over $1 million dollars for treatment programs.


As you are aware, Health Canada provides significant resources to your community to offer this type of programming.  In fact, combined funding for mobile treatment and the healing lodge, the parent support program, professional mental health support and the safe house is greater than $1M. I urge the Mushuau Innu council to work with your community health staff and determine the best use of this funding.


The Labradorian


Organizations: RCMP, Child Youth and Family Services, Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Board

Geographic location: Natuashish, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Natuashish.Just

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Recent comments

  • Daniel Slaney
    April 02, 2013 - 04:13

    Too much finger pointing....adequate funding in place. The band has to step up instead of just holding their hand out. Finally, no mention of parent involvement here. Had this happened with non-aboriginal children, they would be taken away.

  • stephen
    April 01, 2013 - 13:02

    parents on a drunk,kids left alone,its time for the INNU to take some responsibility for their own problems. Why is it always SOMEONE ELSES responsibility.BS raise your own kids and get a grip on your life .25 yrs of this is enough.

  • Karen Butt
    March 31, 2013 - 12:59

    This is very sad because from what I see and read about the northern communities in labrador, it's not only the children slipping through the system it also all the poor animals that are treated badly there, very abused and not taken care of, I think it's time the Goverment of NL step in and do something about both these problems in labrador instead of sitting on their behinds and pretending nothing is going on..

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 30, 2013 - 05:09

    They want more money?

  • Jake
    March 29, 2013 - 15:53

    Kathy Dunderdale is hiding 90 million dollars for ??what? Pass it over Premier to save the lives of the children of Labrador and their families

  • sad story
    March 28, 2013 - 18:19

    The saga continues and all Chief wants is more money!! You have more resources than most communities and this continues. The problem is the parents and they need to be dealt with. You tell us the parents were not in the community but I wonder how many of these kids are back in their homes tonight

  • So..What are you doing
    March 28, 2013 - 18:02

    Maybe the army should go into a out of control community and enforce safety. A bit extreme to say the least, but extreme measures are needed here to protect the innocent. What are the military laws for OUR COUNTRY - CANADA? When we have a "nation" losing control isn't there laws in place for this. Remove all kids who are at risk. Treat them at the nearest hospital, stop paying money to this area. When the children have reached 18 years old and they have been given the freedom to see another side of life , let them decide to go back there or not. We should give them a chance. Is that what you want to do to?

  • mike obrien
    March 28, 2013 - 15:53

    one million dollars , a year????. for one community< and he is looking for more? ridiculous!