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Answers emerge in case of 8 missing Innu children from Pakuashipi

In 1972, eight children from the community of Pakuashipi on Quebec's North Shore were flown to a hospital in Blanc-Sablon 200 kilometres away and never returned.

43-year-old mystery has haunted a small Innu community on Quebec's Lower North Shore

Pakuashipi children as young as three months were sent alone to hospital in Blanc-Sablon for treatment. (Conseil des Innus de Pakuashipi)

In 1972, eight children from the Innu community of Pakuashipi on Quebec's Lower North Shore were sent to a hospital in Blanc-Sablon 200 kilometres away, and never returned. 

The community's 80 members had just moved into their first homes at the time, hoping for a better life.

Heated by firewood, the houses did not have running water and lacked access to basic services. Pakuashipi residents often turned for help to a fishing village on the other side of the St. Augustine River.

Within months, the eight children fell ill.

Sent to hospital alone

Each child was sent alone by plane for treatment, never to be seen again.

Their parents never received notice of their deaths, leaving them to wonder if they were still alive. 

Louisa Mark, a community member, believed her sister Odette had been adopted.

Others feared the worst, such as Christine Lalo, who believed her children were murdered.

For many years, distance and language prevented the families from demanding accountability from the authorities.

The doubts caused by this long silence still mark the community.

I could never talk about my sadness at having lost my two daughters. To learn today what happened to Monique makes me even sadder.- Agnès Poker

Documents reveal the truth

At the request of the parents, Radio-Canada requested documents from the Blanc-Sablon hospital and was granted access.

The documents obtained revealed that all eight children had died, most of respiratory tract infections.

One three-month-old baby girl died after choking on food — "Obstructive pulmonary asphyxia at the upper respiratory tract" was the official cause.

A sadness that still lives

"Why did they give her food," asked her mother, Agnès Poker. "She was only three months old and on the bottle. "

"I could never talk about my sadness at having lost my two daughters. To learn today what happened to Monique makes me even sadder," she said.

Children of Pakuashipi, photographed in 1970. (Conseil des Innus de Pakuashipi)

The attending physician of the time has since died and the current hospital management cannot explain what happened there.

'Like a war hospital'

"The Lower North Shore was like a war hospital," said Madeleine St-Gelais, a traveling nurse who knew about the care delivered at the time.

"To say they buried the children without letting the parents see them or know about it, I find that difficult," St-Gelais said.

Radio-Canada found three doctors who had rotated through Blanc-Sablon at the time. They had no memory of the deaths, but said Innu children often arrived at the hospital in very bad shape.

Charles Mark, who owned the only motorboat in the area, often helped residents of Pakuashipi cross to the fishing village on the other side of the river.

He said that it took forever to get them to the hospital because white patients were given precedence.

Translated from a report by Radio-Canada's Anne Panasuk

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