Nfld. & Labrador

Innu elder's walk into the country cut short after spill on snowmobile

"I didn't want to come home," says Penashue, 73, who was on the journey with her grandchildren.

Elizabeth Penashue nursing a sore knee after machine she was riding tipped over

Elizabeth Penashue is resting at her daughter's home in Sheshatshiu while her knee heals, and she is not a happy patient. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Elizabeth Penashue couldn't wait to spend a few weeks in the Labrador country with friends and family this spring. 

But a mishap on a snowmobile forced her to stop.

The 73-year-old set out from Sheshatshiu with a group of about 10 people, including her grandchildren, on March 5.

Elizabeth Penashue had high hopes for her trip into the country when she set out with a group of friends and family on March 5th. (Facebook )

The last time she walked into the Mealy Mountains was in 2015, and she really looked forward to it again, a trek she started doing more than 20 years ago.

"We're going to put a tent across the lake, and then we're going to walk the next day, snowshoes, toboggan, and the young children. I had a good time. I was very happy," the Innu elder told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning

Taking a tumble 

Penashue wasn't expecting the slushy conditions on Lake Melville, and after worrying that her grandchildren would get wet, she called her brother to pick up the younger ones to take them home on snowmobile.

The Innu elder was given a lift on the back of a snowmobile to go to a camp that was set up on the lake.

I miss so much my walk and I'm very sad about what happened.- Elizabeth Penashue

She said it was stop and go with all of the slush, and at one point, both Penashue and the driver fell onto the ice when the snowmobile tipped over.

That's when the pain started.

"I couldn't stand at first. I stay a little bit on the ice, and I feel my knee is getting pain. I tried to stand up after, still a little bit of pain, not very much, just a little bit," she said.

Penashue didn't want to to let the others know that she was hurt, but after cooking supper and then trying to get some sleep, the pain was unbearable and her knee was swollen.

That night a helicopter airlifted her to the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

After X-rays, a doctor told her she was lucky not to have broken any bones.

She was instructed to keep off her feet and was given a brace to keep her leg straight.

Elizabeth Penashue spent the night in the hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay after being airlifted by a helicopter from a camp on Lake Melville. (Facebook )

Penashue is using a walker to get around while she's recuperating at her daughter's home in Sheshatshiu.

"I feel very sad. I'm not a woman who stays inside all the time. I'm a woman always outside. I didn't want to come home," she said.

Teaching children 

Penashue said inviting children on her walks is really important so she can teach things like setting up a tent and hunting small animals, skills she learned from her parents.

She wants her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, to follow in her footsteps.

"Every time when I walk, always, always young children are very happy. I can see in my eyes. Oh, Tshaukuesh, the weather is so nice, is so beautiful. What are you going to do when you see animals? What's for supper tonight? Are you going to make a story before go to bed?"

Elizabeth Penashue was instructed to keep off her feet after the accident, and uses this walker to get around at her daughter's home in Sheshatshiu. (Facebook )

She doesn't want the Innu culture and way of life to disappear. And that's why Penashue didn't want to stop her walk.

"I don't feel like I'm very old, old lady. I can't walk anymore, I don't feel like that," she said.

I'm not a woman who stays inside all the time.- Elizabeth Penashue

"I feel always I'm a strong woman because my parents, my mom and my dad, was very, very strong. I want to be the same."

Penashue's late husband, Francis, also supported her walks into the country before he died in 2013. He used to drive a snowmobile up ahead to set up camp while Elizabeth snowshoed with a toboggan in tow.

She said she's travelled throughout the traditional Innu territory her whole life, and in 2016 walked the Trans-Labrador Highway to protest the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Elizabeth Penashue, 73, walks down the Trans-Labrador Highway, heading towards the Muskrat Falls Project in 2016. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

When asked if she's hoping to walk into the Mealy Mountains again next year, Penashue was just too upset to talk about it.

"I miss so much my walk and I'm very sad about what happened. I hope my knee is going to be okay," she said.


John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.