TC-MEDIA—HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY
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.”