Like many others in Labrador, I was simply astounded by CBC's John Furlong's article "Trouble in Natuashish comes from the top." His description of the Innu people of Sheshatshiu is extremely generalized, exaggerated, and negative.
Furlong wrote, in part:
Perhaps they have all lost hope. Perhaps that's why they present themselves the way they do. Expressionless, silent, brooding, uncommunicative. It comes across as menacing and arrogant, but it's just the way they are. It's not the way we are. It's just the way they are.
And because they are that way, they are barely tolerated by most of the white community in Goose Bay, disliked and mistrusted by many.
It doesn't help that some of the most visible of the Innu are the most problematic. In the summer time, you can see them stagger out, or being thrown out, of a couple of hotels in Goose Bay, fall asleep in the woods and awaken in the morning, and stumble out like zombies. The Walking Dead.
That is just one sample of how Mr. Furlong describes the Innu. But my past and current experiences with these people do not fit that description at all.
I grew up one kilometre away from Sheshatshiu, in the town of North West River, and made a lot of good friends and met a lot of good people since I was a kid. In fact, one of my best friends in elementary school was an Innu boy, who would have looked out for me on the playground no matter what.
As a teenager, I played hockey with some great Innu athletes who displayed hard work, dedication and a will to win... not lifeless zombies that Furlong's article depicts.
The year after I finished minor hockey, Happy Valley-Goose Bay hosted the provincial Midget D championship. I remember watching the tournament fondly, not just because team Lake Melville won the championship, but due to the image of the team. All three central Labrador communities were represented - North West River, Goose Bay, and five great athletes from Sheshatshiu. In fact, three of those Innu hockey players formed the popular "Innu line." The trio scored a ton of goals, including the championship winner - scored by James Nuna - who flew through the air Bobby Orr-style after shooting the puck. The EJ Broomfield Arena was such a tremendous sight. There weren't enough seats to fill the crowd. People from Sheshatshiu, North West River and Happy Valley-Goose Bay were all cheering together.
This is the advantage of spending so many youthful years across the river from Sheshatshiu; you see the good along with the bad. Being so close means that you will play sports with the Innu, bond with them, share school trips etc... By the time I was a teenager I saw more similarities than differences in us.
The Innu people have always been kind to me. Back in the day, before I had my license, people from Sheshatshiu would always give me rides when I was hitchhiking back and forth from Goose Bay, while many other cars would leave me out in the cold. If there was room in back of a truck, I could always count on a kind Innu person to pick me up.
After reading Furlong's article, one would get the impression that nothing is happening in Sheshatshiu, no improvements and no positive changes.
The community continues to exist. That's all it does. It doesn't live and breathe with its own rhythm like other communities. It just exists. Amid a collective arrogance that co-exists with a collective malaise.
But I've seen many strides happening to Sheshatshiu, especially with the new Innu School.
When I grew up, our neighbours who attended the now-replaced Peenamin McKenzie School often had no graduates. This year, there were eight graduates, all of whom I've met and interviewed, all of who are planning careers and post secondary education.
I don't see a hopeless community in absolute chaos. I see a community that has some serious problems, yet has some tremendous people who can and will make the town better.
I'm writing this because I don't want a group of people to be painted with the same brush. The two Innu communities have some serious problems facing them, no doubt. But hope is not lost, for I've seen great strides made over the years first hand.