Current Problems

Child Welfare (1-5)

Inquiry community meetings end with optimism in Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation 

October 27, 2023

Commissioners will be in Natuashish before holding formal hearings early in 2024

A man in a purple sweater and chino pants sits on a black couch.
Edward Nuna is the healing services lead for the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the child protection system. He addressed the inquiry on Thursday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details. All stories were shared with consent of participants.

NationTalk: CBC News – The Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu children in care has concluded its community meetings in Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation. 

For two weeks, Innu shared a variety of experiences with the child protection system, government officials and church officials. Some Innu shared experiences of sexual abuse, being removed from the reserve to Ontario in the foster system and experiences of their children being removed. 

Healing services lead Edward Nuna said the inquiry could be a part of healing, as looking at the past can help people understand why they are feeling their current emotions. 

Nuna said he speaks from personal experiences. After struggling with addictions for years, he went into treatment himself and began to see things he had repressed from his past, including a flashback from childhood when his mother took him to a social worker’s house.

“My mother had abandoned me at four, five years old,” Nuna said. “She said ‘Here, take him. I don’t want him.’ And at that time I think I didn’t know what is happening. I remember I started to cry.”

The social worker picked him up as his mother left. She tried to help him stop crying but gave up and let the young child walk home alone. Nuna said the social worker never checked up on him after. 

Two men sit on a black couch. One is wearing a purple sweater while the other is wearing a beige suit.
Edward Nuna spoke to Commissioner Dr. Mike Devine on Thursday at the inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in care. Nuna said he is working to turn his trauma in the past to helping others today. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

“As a person who works in social work, she didn’t come to help me. That’s why I think the other things, the other abuses came to play,” Nuna said. “Had I had someone at a younger age that was protecting me — like social services — I probably wouldn’t have ended up being in those situations.” 

Nuna faced frequent physical abuse from his mother. He was often sent to live with the community’s priest, but said that resulted in sexual abuse during the night. Nuna said after the priest, his uncle sexually abused him starting at age 12, until he was well into his teens. 

As an adult, Nuna said he now understands what he was trying to repress and why he has trouble letting people get close to him or being in relationships. Now, Nuna is working to use his experiences to help others as the healing services lead, supporting people testifying to the inquiry. 

“When you experience trauma in your life, I think some of those traumas, the doors, they lock some things from us. They open up I think when you’re ready,” Nuna said.

Nuna’s story is one of dozens the inquiry commissioners are gathering to create recommendations that they hope will result in Innu taking over their own child protection system. 

Former Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Paul Rich said it is time for Innu to be in control. The residential school survivor told the commissioners that when other people have a system that affects Innu and make a mistake, they expect Innu to fix it. 

A man in a blue jacket sits at a microphone.
Former Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Paul Rich said it’s time for Innu to take control of their own systems. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

“But we’re not in control,” Rich said. “We run it. We make a mistake, we fix it. That’s the way it should be. That’s the way it’s gonna be.” 

Rich said he wants to see the language and culture that is fading come back. He said while individuals may not have all the answers, together as a community it can happen. 

“We are strong and we know what we have to do,” Rich said. “We’re headed into a big change. I can’t wait to see that big change where Innu will decide where we’re going.” 

The inquiry is holding community sessions in Natuashish in November before holding formal hearings and investigations into the deaths of six children who have experience with the child protection system. The investigations are anticipated to start in early 2024. 

The Inquiry website contains phone numbers for anyone in Natuashish, Sheshatshiu, or elsewhere in the Labrador-Grenfell Region, looking for healing and crisis help.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.