Nfld. & Labrador

Francis Penashue, former Sheshatshiu chief, dies

Innu elder and former Sheshatshiu chief Francis Penashue has died. He was 74.

Family to bring father's body to tent to be mourned in Innu tradition

Members of Francis Penashue's family wait outside the hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for him to be taken off life support and brought outside. (Bailey White/CBC)

Innu elder and former Sheshatshiu chief Francis Penashue has died. He was 74.

About 200 people were gathered around Penashue's tent behind the hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay when he passed away around 7:30 p.m.

His family had been preparing for his death in traditional Innu culture, setting up the tent outside the hospital. He was expected to be moved there after being taken off life support.

Kanani Davis, Penashue's daughter, said it's important for her father to be in a traditional setting in his final moments of life.

"Where dad was born in the country, raised in the country, loved being out in the country — he loved hunting, being on the land — this is, I think, where he would want to spend his last few hours of his life, is in the tent," she said.

"I think this is what dad would have wanted."

According to Davis, bringing her father to the tent is a meaningful gesture for the family.

"Dad took his first breath in a tent, and he will take his last breath in a tent, with family," she said.

Penashue has nine children, including former MP Peter Penashue, who said his father would probably be surprised by the amount of work being done for him.

"My dad is a very simple man — he sought very simple things and he never sought attention," he said.

"And so he would probably say this was too much attention for him, but my dad would have appreciated the support that he's receiving now — from family and community."

Penashue is one of the last Innu to be born on the land.

He and his wife of 50 years, Elizabeth, taught their children everything they knew about living off the land.