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Innu inquiry to hold 1st formal hearings, focusing on history of child welfare in Innu communities

Commissioners James Igloliorte, Anastasia Qupee and Mike Devine stand at the first sessions of the Inquiry in February, 2023.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
Commissioners James Igloliorte, Anastasia Qupee and Mike Devine stand at the first sessions of the Inquiry in February, 2023. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

The Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System is set to begin formal hearings in Sheshatshiu on Monday after months of informal community sessions.

The five days of hearings will focus on the history of child welfare in Labrador's two Innu communities and the health and well-being of the Innu, to be held at the Sheshatshiu Youth Centre from Jan. 22 to 26.

The inquiry held community sessions in both Sheshatshiu and Natuashish last fall, where any Innu were welcome to share their experience or thoughts with the commissioners. The inquiry will now hear from experts and institutional representatives.

Co-Commissioner Anastasia Qupee says these will be the first formal hearings of the inquiry and begin with an opening prayer by an elder.

"It's important to hear from people who've been providing services in our communities, in both communities and what their experiences have been in relation to child protection and the changes that they've seen," Qupee said.

The inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in care began in April 2022 after years of delays and a push from the Innu Nation to keep children in care in their home communities, with treatment that includes a focus on their culture and roots.

Simeon Tshakapesh hopes to be at the hearings each day. Tshakapesh called for the inquiry after the death of his son Thunderchild, who had been in care in Saskatchewan. He said the formal hearings are important.

"They need to know what transpired within our lives within Davis Inlet and Sheshatshiu as well, that's very important," Tshakapesh said.

"We need to collect all the facts. What went wrong? Why did it happen? Why things were never halted when things went off the rails, and that's very important to me."

Simeon Tshakapesh, far right, is mourning the loss of his son, Thunderheart Napeu. The father believes his son's death was a result of being removed from home two years ago
Simeon Tshakapesh, far right, is mourning the loss of his son, Thunderheart Napeu. The father believes his son's death was a result of being removed from home two years ago

In 2017, Simeon Tshakapesh, far right, and his family called for an inquiry into the treatment of Innu in the child protection system after the death of his son, Thunderheart Napeu. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Tshakapesh said the stories are going to be painful and bring back memories, but it's important to hear the evidence.

"We want some justice, accountability," Tshakapesh said.

The inquiry is set up at the Sheshatshiu Youth Centre. Chairs are arranged in a circle, meant to mimik the experience of sitting in a round in an Innu tent.
The inquiry is set up at the Sheshatshiu Youth Centre. Chairs are arranged in a circle, meant to mimik the experience of sitting in a round in an Innu tent.

The inquiry is held in Sheshatshiu at the Sheshatshiu Youth Centre. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The inquiry's three commissioners — Qupee, Mike Devine and James Igloliorte — are looking at the history of Innu in Labrador, the child protection system run by the province and church organizations, and the intergenerational trauma that followed.

About one-third of children in Newfoundland and Labrador's foster-care system are Indigenous, despite Indigenous people making up only about nine per cent of the province's overall population, according to Statistics Canada.

Anyone is welcome to come and listen to the hearings, and some refreshments will be provided, Qupee said. Healing services will be on site for anyone who may need support while testifying or listening.

The inquiry's final report must be delivered by Sept. 30.

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