My name is Shimiu (Simeon) Tshakapesh. I have been elected as Chief of the Mushuau Innu on five separate occasions. I most recently held the elected position of Deputy Grand Chief of the Innu Nation.
At present I hold no elected position. Myself and my wife Ruby lost our son, Thunderheart Tshakapesh, to suicide in May of this year after he had been in the custody of the then Child, Youth and Family Services (now Child, Seniors and Social Development) for two years.
We are writing this letter in our capacity as Innu and as Thunderheart Tshakapesh’s parents. I also write in my capacity as a past and, indubitably, a future leader of the Innu.
We have a serious concern that the commitment of the Newfoundland and Labrador government to a public inquiry into the situation of the Innu youth taken into child custody appears to be going nowhere.
My wife and I are just now starting to emerge from our grieving process and we are concerned because the public inquiry that was committed to on July 5, 2017 by the premier and the elected Innu Chiefs appears to be stalled.
We are unable to discover the current status of the public inquiry. Has the attitude of the government been altered now that it appears that the federal government will not underwrite the cost and will only minimally share the cost of the public inquiry? This inquiry is very important to the Innu. It is the much required first step if there is to be reconciliation between the Innut (Innu people) and the akaneshau (white people).
Many injustices have occurred to the Innu over the years and they have had profound effects on the collective psyche of the Innut. In order for the Innu people to move ahead, there needs to be a recognition of those injustices if there is ever to be a reconciliation between the Innut and the akaneshau.
Ultimately, (as was recently referred to by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his apology) every single youth that could be the subject of the public inquiry has been deprived of the love and care and attention of their parents, families, communities and culture.
Just as it was necessary for the federal government to call forth the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order for the relationship with the Indigenous people to begin to move ahead and improve, it is now necessary for this public inquiry to be held so that the relationship between the Innu and the N.L. government can move forward and improve. If the Innu are to heal there needs to be a recognition of the profound injuries that colonialism has imposed upon us, severely eroding the practices, cultures and traditions of the Innu and plunging us into poverty, family violence and substance abuse.
We, my wife and I, would like to say the following to Premier Dwight Ball and his government: Mr. Premier, an opportunity exists right now for the Innut and the N.L. government to move from being one of the poorest examples of the effects of colonialism on the Indigenous people and move, instead, being an example to others about the process of reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canadian governments. It is time, Mr. Premier. I implore you, on behalf of myself, my wife, and all the Innut, to seize this opportunity.
Nin (“I, me, myself”),