Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate says the latest scenes of gas-sniffing adolescents in Natuashish underscore the need for immediate action in the Innu community.
"Literally, enough is enough," Carol Chafe told CBC News.
Chafe said that while gas sniffing has been a recurring problem in the small community on Labrador's northern coast — as well as in Davis Inlet, the notorious community where residents lived until a relocation began in late 2002 — the resurgence in solvent abuse is deeply troubling.
"I want to see a more organized, critical type of response right now, to assess every child in that community to ensure that they are safe, or at what level of degree they're not safe, and then what do they need to ensure their safety," Chafe said.
CBC News recorded scenes earlier this week of five adolescents, between 12 and 17, wandering after midnight holding bags of gasoline they claim they siphoned from vehicles.
Chafe said that any action in Natuashish not only needs to be urgent, but has to address several concerns, chief among them the health of the children.
She said the children have to be removed from the ability to sniff gas, which may mean moving individual children out of the community.
As well, she said, the parents themselves often will need action. "They have their own issues and need support," she said.
Prote Poker, the newly elected grand chief of the Innu Nation, said that many children have started sniffing gas again because their parents have been drinking.
Chafe also said that urgent action needs to involve a long-term plan that is not just developed but implemented with an eye to the community's overall health.
'Piecemeal' approach not working
Chafe acknowledged that various measures are in place in Natuashish, but they are not enough.
"This piecemeal 'let's do this, and let's do that and then let's work on other issues' — that's all wonderful, and it's all needed and I commend everyone who's doing it," she said.
"But we still have — you saw the pictures — it's happening up there now today, tonight, tomorrow, and it's going to continue to happen."
Chafe wants every child in the Innu community assessed to determine whose safety is at risk.
She says the idea of flying in experts on parenting and addictions is just one piece of the puzzle.