Youth need more activities to connect them with culture, chief says

In early May, fire destroyed this house in Natuashish where youths were known to be sniffing gas.

In early May, fire destroyed this house in Natuashish where youths were known to be sniffing gas.

After two suicides and two house fires in the last three weeks, Natuashish is in mourning — and Chief John Nui says alcohol is ravaging his home community.

“It’s visible in our community,” Nui said. “I’m not going to deny it or anything. It’s hard when you see some people who try to put their lives together, and … alcohol is freely flowing around in our community again.”

While Natuashish adopted a bylaw in 2008 making it a dry community, the chief says police are no longer enforcing the rules with strict checks.

Alcohol is flowing in from chartered planes and snowmobiles, he said, bringing tragic consequences to the Mushuau Innu First Nation.

RCMP vehicle fire Natuashish

Someone in Natuashish set a decommissioned RCMP vehicle on fire. A 26-year-old man was taken into custody. (Facebook)

“When [prohibition] was enforced, people were quiet and it seemed like they were starting to get their lives back,” he said.

CBC News has contacted police about the checks. A spokesperson for the RCMP said he would look into Nui’s claims.

Local RCMP reported a 40 per cent drop in crime in the two years after the ban was enacted. But now, Nui says, crime is becoming visible again.

‘It’s very hard when you have limited resources.’– Chief John Nui

On Tuesday night, a resident of the community set a decommissioned RCMP vehicle on fire, Nui said. A 29-year-old male was arrested and taken into police custody.

The two burned houses were vacant properties where young people in Natuashish were known to hang out and sniff gas. As a result of one of the fires, one person is in a Toronto hospital, while another was sent to St. John’s.

This comes at a time when the community is dealing with the suicides of two males from one family.

John Nui

Natuashish Chief John Nui was elected in November. (Cain’s Quest)

“I think it has impacted the community,” Nui said. “Not just the family, but the community. We are doing what we can. But it’s very hard when you have limited resources … People are trying to be involved in some way but they can only do so much.”

Where do we go from here?

There has to be a return to culture, Nui said, and an outlet for youth in the community to express themselves.

Leaders held a meeting after the fires to discuss options to ease the pain in the community. That meeting lasted four hours.

In the last community meeting, there were concerns expressed about a lack of activities for youth in Natuashish.

Gas sniffing kid asleep in tub at abandoned house in Natuashish

A young girl sleeps in the bathroom of an abandoned home in Natuashish, where other youths were found sniffing gas. (Submitted by Simeon Tshakapesh)

The leaders are committed to creating more opportunities for children without relying on outside resources, Nui said, as they have knowledgeable people who can help within their own community.

It’s difficult to meet the interests of every child in the community, he added, but they will make efforts to be better.

“With the limited resources we have we can only do so much. We tend to forget some people, but that’s not intentionally done.”

A large part of the issue comes back to culture, Nui said. The Mushuau were historically a nomadic people.

‘The youth, they are lost.’– Chief John Nui

In 1948, the community was moved by the pre-Confederation government in the province. Dissatisfied, the Mushuau returned to their homes on foot.

They were moved again in 1967 to Davis Inlet on Iluikoyak Island, and one last time in 2002 to their current location in Natuashish.

“The youth, they are lost,” Nui said.

“The culture aspect is missing from their lives and I think that’s one of the things that we need to get back. We need to go back to our roots and start from there.”