Tshakapesh emotional after gas sniffing incidents

Derek Montague
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Simeon Tshakapesh


Natuashish Chief Simeon Tshakapesh is frustrated and emotionally drained after two groups of kids, in a span of two days, were found sniffing gas in the community.

Three children were discovered sniffing gas after they broke into a house Tuesday morning. In the second incident, which happened Wednesday night, seven children between the ages of 9 and 12 were found sniffing gas home alone. There were unsecured shotguns and ammunition, as well as lighters, found in the house.

Gas sniffing has been a problem in the community for decades, and Tshakapesh is worried the two recent cases might be just the tip of the iceberg.

“I think this is going to be worse (than before),” says Tshakapesh. “When I see guns and ammunition that were left in the house, that’s even worse.”

Immediately following the gas sniffing incidents, Tshakapesh sent off emails asking for more resources from federal and provincial officials to deal with the solvent abuse problem.

“I’m still overwhelmed,” said Tshakapesh in an interview this afternoon. “I’m still trying to do my best, trying to get decent front line workers and the key players of health (and) child protection people … trying to get the program started here.”

According to an email sent to Tshakapesh from Debra Keays-White, regional executive of FNIHB Atlantic, Health Canada provides Natuashish over a million dollars in funding for various treatment programs.

But Tshakapesh says the money from Health Canada is stretched to its limit. He adds that the funding from the department doesn’t go towards programs dealing with solvent abuse.

“I’m talking about a solvent abuse program here,” says Tshakapesh. “It’s two different issues were talking about here.  It’s solvent abuse, then there’s addictions like alcohol and drugs.”

“We exhausted our funding (the $1 million) trying to maintain our resources here … (like) hiring counsellors.”

Tshakapesh believes that sending children outside the Innu community will do more harm than good, when it comes to treating solvent abuse and other youth issues.

“I think that, when they come back, they come more worse than when they left here,” claims Tshakapesh. “That’s why I don’t agree (with) outside programs and all that stuff. It doesn’t do any good for that child.”

The two recent cases of gas sniffing in Natuashish have brought back painful memories for Tshakapesh. During his interview with The Labradorian, he broke down and cried while recounting his, and his community’s, never-ending struggles with addictions and solvent abuse.

Tshakapesh says that both of his parents drank heavily. And, when they committed suicide, it was him who retrieved the bodies out of the water.

“They were abusing alcohol, and finally, they took their own lives,” recounts Tshakapesh. “I was probably 12 years old at that time and I took the bodies out of the water, as a young boy. And I turned to gas sniffing, started drinking, started doing drugs.”

Tshakapesh says he is sober now, but it still hurts to see the problems continuing for many people in Natuashish.

“The booze took my parents. My parents were both drunk when they committed suicide,” said a sobbing Tshakapesh. “That’s how hard it is, what the booze does to the community.

“A lot of people are struggling … there’s something wrong. Something’s not being addressed.”


The Labradorian

Organizations: Health Canada

Geographic location: Natuashish, HAPPY VALLEY

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Recent comments

  • Agnes N.
    April 03, 2013 - 08:12

    Fred from Brigus, the statement you made "Bring in a couple of bulldozers and razed the place" is not only very offensive to the Innu people but also to me and many more of us, who are not First Nations people, who care about the Innu people. Maybe Fred you can find it in your heart to issue an apology on this very harsh statement. The Innu have lived in this part of Labrador for thousands of years and it has only been for the past 60 plus years that they ever have had any dependence on Government in their entire existence. They eked out a living by utilizing wisely the resources that the land and the waters provided them and they did so very well in balance with nature. I truly believe that the Innu are asking for hands on assistance, and probably no more in the way of monetary assistance than what they are receiving at the moment, so that their community can be constructed in a way that it flourishes socially and economically. I think it is high time that the government(s) sit down with the Innu and try to institute the change that is needed for them to turn matters around. They are a very intelligent people and I know the social and economic order that they are desiring can be achieved with the appropriate assistance that is needed through government(s) working side by side with them, in a hands on fashion, in order to bring that social and economic order into being. INNU Nation feel assured I and my family are rooting for you to attain everything good that your people deserve and I am confident that we are not the only ones. Long Live "The Idle No More Movement", since I think it has made a difference for all First Nations people everywhere in Canada.

  • Albert Webber
    April 02, 2013 - 11:12

    Why dont the Innu take the money from the NEW DAWN agreement? They sold out Labrador for Millions... They can afford treatment!

  • Fred from Brigus
    March 31, 2013 - 05:16

    Throwing more money into the pot will not cure the problem. Bring in a couple of bulldozers and razed the place. Move the people out of there into bigger communities and let them integrate into the real world. It will upset this generation but future generations will be better off, just like the resettlement from the isolated islands in the 60s.

  • Duffy
    March 30, 2013 - 19:58

    We need to do something fast and I suggest we do the same thing we have been for years. Send more money to be squandered!

  • Lee
    March 30, 2013 - 18:44

    Abuse, like solvent abuse, drug and alcohol abuse has to be stopped. The person and the people have to stop blaming others. I am from Labrador. I know what it is like to grow up poor, seeing alcohol and drug abuse, thinking, this is all there is for me. You have to start with forgiveness. Forgive yourself first. Forgive the ones who hurt you. Break the chain. That is the only way. If you do not start by helping yourself, how can anyone else help you.

  • JB
    March 30, 2013 - 18:26

    This story continues to bring great sadness every time it is spoken about! In my humble opinion this gas sniffing is a symptom of a much bigger problem but it causes great distress to see those children in such dire circumstances-wish I had the answers~ but I do believe that it is a community issue & unless & until the adults feel empowered & can take an active role into tackling their own addiction issues then I fear the children will continue to experience such problems-& throwing more money at the community will not solve the Natuashish Innu Children 's plight~as difficult as it seems the community itself would benefit greatly if they could find the courage to tackle this problem & Cheif Tshakapesh needs help ,support, & understanding from outside sources -The healing should start by coming from within-removing the children for awhile then having them return to the same distressed Family/Community will not fix it-in such circumstances once again we have only temporarily removed the problem we have not fixed it -we only changed the location! My heart goes out to those children & their families/community & hope & pray that good health & happiness can come & live within their lives in the not too distant future

  • charlene
    March 30, 2013 - 17:20

    Being a kid (like myself) in Natuashish, Finds nothing to do in the late evenings. We choose absurd things like gas-sniffing and drugs. I have Friends that are in distress. They post things on facebook that makes me feel sorrow for them. I message them as soon as i was done reading their situation. There's parents that drink and just wander and forget that they even have children. That's wrong. Who wouldn't think it is? A program would do well for the teens and kids. The question is would it work? I hope that my friends find a solution to their problem.

  • ed
    March 30, 2013 - 15:20

    The government is already providing this community with a million dollars for treatment programs. How many people are in this community???

  • Philip
    March 30, 2013 - 07:52

    You can't live in the past. Not individuals or Nations. Give the children xbox and Internet so that they can see what the real world looks like, and what their future could be. You can't go back to the farm, once you have seen Paris. Don't think we will be safe in St. John's after we start paying for lower Churchill power either. Once key events happen, you can't go back. Example Japan. Speak up before things happen, there is no value in complaining after. I believe in cheap power for Labrador, for industry and manufacturing, I just don't think there is any benefit in exporting it at a loss. Stop the insanity : )

  • Peter Bown
    March 30, 2013 - 00:25

    For many years I was privileged to work among the Innu of Labrador. During that time we had an elderly social worker, Dorothy Mills, who was able to do very effective work in the previous community commonly known, to most, as Davis Inlet. Dorothy's success was, I believe due to empowering the Innu women thru frequent group meetings about family & community issues. As time passed it appeared this practice proved to be very effective in eliminating negative issues. The children need not to be removed from those they love. The moms & dads in turn love their children & each parent has to forego their addictions & make their children a priority. It won't be easy & support similar to Dorothy"s will lead to positive outcomes.

  • Philip
    March 29, 2013 - 21:15

    You can't live in the past. That applies to individuals and Nations. If the leaders don't understand that, what chance do the children have. Give all the children an Xbox and Internet, let them see the real world. Give them something to wish for. How many programmers started out watching computer games and said, I'd like to do that?

  • engage the families
    March 29, 2013 - 18:22

    I don't often agree with much Sineon Tshakapesh has to say but I think he is right about the children needing to be treated in the community. For treatment to work, you need to engage the family. They need to really engage families right from the planning stage to the finial treatment. I have had a family member treated in Ontario and they are light years ahead of us when it comes to involving family in planning and in training families to help their loved ones themselves. Families of mentally ill and addicted children are generally treated very poorly by health and social workers. We need to change the mind set that it is family that is always the problem, some children are born with conditions that normal parenting skills don't work.

  • roy
    March 29, 2013 - 17:51

    We all feel for this problem and the children involved. The parents are the first to be treated they have neglected their children. The chief has lost control or is he blind. This is another attempt to get more money by using the medial to embarrsse the govt. and get more money, more money won't help. People planting the idea of returning to traditional ways of hunting and fishing the ways of their or indeed our forefathers are living in a dream world a world you can only live in if you have an income outside this world.

  • Labrador ex-pat
    March 29, 2013 - 16:34

    Chief Tshakapesh is an embarrassment to all aboriginal leaders. Gas sniffing is not new, these cases are not "the tip of the iceburg". Solvent use by all ages in Natuashish is and has been a constant problem. Tshakapesh and his counsel have done nothing to address the problem. But the first time it hits the media he takes advantage of the situation to ask government for more money, trying to make it the government's problem. Natuashish is the wealthiest reserve by population of any reserve in Atlantic Canada. Tshakapesh should have been utilizing their resources to address this problem as soon as he took over, not looking at this as an opportunity to extract additional cash from government. How hard is it to lock tanks, seriously? The reality is that he does not care, his emotion is artificial, and the additional funds, if they are provided, I seriously doubt will be utilized properly. My money is on it going to another member of Tshakepesh' family being hired as a "counselor"training or qualifications required! Just to address the knee-jerk reaction to any criticism from a non-innu, I am not racist, but I have experience with Tshakapesh and Natuashish.

  • in my view
    March 29, 2013 - 13:27

    It makes me weep to hear this story being retold. Haul the whole crowd of them out of there and insist that they live like the rest of us in towns where these children get to live normal , happy, engaged, dignified lives, where they at least have a chance to become productive people. It's the 21st century, for God's sake. They are marching toward inevitable self-annihilation. You can only weep at the sorrow of it all.

  • philly
    March 29, 2013 - 12:38

    Davis vu. I mean Deja vu.........

  • cc
    March 29, 2013 - 12:22

    Yes, there is something wrong. And all these problems are just symptoms of a greater problem. There is something that is not being addressed as he says. These people have lost their way, they are missing something in their lives, and are not able to live it as they should. Very very sad for them and I don't have any answers. I hope that they will find the answers, or someone will be able to find it for them. Soon. Everyone needs a purpose, and they seem to be struggling to find one. We all are disconnected from our instincts to survive and these cozy lives of convenience causes us all to flounder to some extent. They are so recently removed from their attachement to the earth that they seem to be floundering all the more. Strength to the Chief and his people.

  • Paul
    March 29, 2013 - 11:45

    I'm so tired of this story. Despite what the leaders of Davis Inlet appeared ato have claimed, a simple relocation to new homes and facilities does not do much to solve addictions. Does anyone believe what Simeon Tshakapesh has to say? I'm confident that everyone who lives in that community knows what goes on. It's a small community and like most of us who grew up in small communities we know it is very hard to keep anything secret. These children were in homes where their parents could not be relocated for hours or days. This community is obviously broken and pulling children out and then dropping them back in to the same damaged homes isn't a solution, it's a cycle. Chief Tshakapesh please spare us the same old line that a better rink, recreation centre, more money, etc. will fix the ills. I never sniffed gas because I grew up in a home where I was supervised, cared for, taught right from wrong and had two parents who valued me more than a good time. Innu or non-Innu, if a parent or parents are acting that way they should not be given the opportunity to destroy another generation.

  • Tony
    March 29, 2013 - 09:22

    Maybe the chief should be teaching the kids how to hunt the Caribou instead of sitting idle at home !!

  • snowman
    March 29, 2013 - 09:17

    Natuashish Chief Simeon Tshakapesh needs help ( more money) in dealing with the problems in Natuashish. and i thought all the chief's problems were solved when he got Randy Simms removed from Open Line. Simeon is the CHIEF he is the LEADER, maybe now it's time he showed some leadership and solved the problems in his community. If he is the great leader he thinks he is then his people will listen to him and follow him. surely he must know who is responsible for bringing in the booze and drugs to such a small community. i feel sorry for the kids because they have no one to look up to, maybe it's time you left the white man out this and dealt with it on your own. don't involve Federal or Provincial governments because they will only make matters worse, that how they secure their own jobs.. good luck, for the kids sake

  • Thomas Griffiths
    March 29, 2013 - 08:25

    Given what this man has been through himself I admire him for trying to help solve these very serious problems. But all the money in the world won't change people unless they wish to change. God bless you for careing enough to ask for help.Good luck sir because we all know once this is gone from the front page everyone forgets quickly until the next sad case comes to the for-front.

  • Only A Symptom
    March 29, 2013 - 08:15

    The gas sniffing by the children is only a larger problem. The problem is not the children but the circumstances in which they live. This is not just an issue about those children and the treatment has to go beyond the kids. Anything less is irresponsible on the part of their community.

  • Lori-Ann Campbell
    March 29, 2013 - 06:19

    It amazes me the way the Innu children of Labrador have been constructed by the media for decades as the only kids being left alone and huffing gas in the Province, making it a 'racialized' and 'segmented' wedge issue....There are plenty of neglected children on the island who would likely present similar stories of solvent or non-prescription drug experimentation and abuse on a case by case basis- the real question is whether solvent abuse can be measured as a widespread issue among neglected pre-teens...If it is not just one community's problem the solution can and must spread to all neglected children in this Province.

  • Dee
    March 28, 2013 - 23:13

    Sir after the way you got on the radio saying you did,nt care what laws the government had put in place about hunting you and your people were going to hunt anyway.If you as a leader have no regard for the law how do you expect the children to respect the law,you are far from a good role model,I would,nt want to you set an example for my children.

  • No NO
    March 28, 2013 - 22:51

    More money won't solve the problem. We tried that before. Try less money so they can't afford the liquor and drugs and maybe the parents will sober up and take care of their children

  • don
    March 28, 2013 - 20:46

    Big Bluff.

  • I agree with Chief Simeon Tshakapesh the children should be treated for solvent abuse within the Innu community of Natuashish.
    March 28, 2013 - 19:06

    I agree with Chief Simeon Tshakapesh that the children would be better served treated for solvent abuse within the Innu community close to their families. Can't the Government(s) institute a program within the community of Natuashish that can help the community's children heal from solvent abuse? I also believe that a solvent abuse program would be much less expensive to administer within the community.

  • moremoney no
    March 28, 2013 - 18:35

    I empathize with the situation but I want to know where the money is going. 1million dollars is a lot of money. How do they plan on dealing with the parents

  • Something Is Not Right Here
    March 28, 2013 - 17:45

    First, may I say, my heart goes out to your community. This article stated: "According to an email sent to Tshakapesh from Debra Keays-White, regional executive of FNIHB Atlantic, Health Canada provides Natuashish over a million dollars in funding for various treatment programs." I ask you Debra Keays-White, did Health Canada just throw money at the problem? Did Health Canada provide trained professionals (along with the funding) to this community? Health Canada should provide the best professionals they have in the field of child abuse, child neglect, substance abuse, parenting skills, etc. Health Canada should send people who have the essential credentials to address this very serious issues. A financial advisor, appointed by the government. should oversee the spending of this "over a million dollars." Abviously, what you have in place is not working.

  • Winston Adams
    March 28, 2013 - 15:55

    My offer of help for Innu kids for health and education got no favourable response from the band council a few years ago. I intended to fund a non profit foundation and wanted someone there to be on the board. No interest! Winston Adams, Logy Bay