A long-awaited inquiry in Labrador examining the state of Innu children in the provincial child welfare system has started in the Sheshatshiu Nation.
“I’m very happy in my heart,” said Innu Elder Elizabeth Penashue. “This is the first time it’s going to happen (the inquiry) and I hope it’s going to work. For a long time, Innu have suffered.”
The inquiry is being led by former Newfoundland and Labrador justice James Igloliorte. The other commissioners are Mike Levine, a retired professor of social work and Anastasia Qupee, a former grand chief of the Innu Nation.
For years parents and leaders in the Innu Nation have called for an inquiry into the treatment of their children – including many who were removed from their community and at times – Labrador.
The province announced the inquiry six years ago – but Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Innu Nation, wanted the federal government to be involved – and the start of the commission bogged down further due to the pandemic.
Click on the schedule here: Innu inquiry
Calls to get the inquiry were heightened when former grand chief Simeon Tshakapesh’s 16-year-old-son Thunderheart died by suicide in 2017.
On April 29, 2022, the provincial government announced that the inquiry would start in the fall.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Etienne Rich, raised by his grandfather who was a nomadic elder, said their culture and language are lost impacting the entire community.
“They come back home after so many, several years, and they don’t have that language, they couldn’t even communicate with their grandparents, that is the sad thing about it,” Rich told APTN News in May 2022.
“The system doesn’t work for us, and it has gone for so many years like that and it’s time to change and to identify exactly what the problems are.”
According to a provincial release, all of the Innu issues identified will come up during the inquiry.
“The Commission of Inquiry is guided by a shared commitment of the Innu Nation, the Mushuau Innu First Nation, the Sheshatshiu First Nation, and the Provincial Government to ensure the safety and well-being of, and to act in the best interests of, Innu children and youth,” said the province.
The province has set aside $4 million for the inquiry which will take 18 months to complete.
The Innu Nation is made up of two communities in Labrador, Sheshatshiu and Natuashish. The Sheshatsui Innu lives in Sheshtshiu outside of Goose Bay, while Mushuau Innu live in Natuashish, a community on the coast about 300 km north.
The Innu population is about 3,200 according to the nation’s website.