Nfld. & Labrador

'This is hard for us': Life in lockdown new challenge for social Innu society

The Innu are a social people, says Chief Eugene Hart, but when it came time to put a gate on Sheshatshiu, the majority of citizens were OK with it.

Gatherings are a part of life in Sheshatshiu, but cannot continue

This snow sculpture by Melissa Nuna Pone won top prize in Sheshatshiu's snow sculpture contest during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation/Facebook)

It wasn't an easy decision to make for people who have prided themselves on social connections for generations, but when it came time to put gates up at the entrances to town, most residents of Sheshatshiu were OK with it.

The First Nation community passed emergency bylaws on March 26 and stopped all traffic coming into Sheshatshiu.

Residents are allowed to leave only to go to outposts in the country or to camp on the road, in order to isolate from family members in the same household.

People can leave for whatever reason they want, but if they choose to do so, they might not be allowed back.

"If you leave for no particular reason, you've got to have a good reason to come back to town," said Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart.

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart has been keeping residents updated with videos on YouTube and through a local radio station. (CBC)

The band council also brought in other measures to encourage isolation, such as not permitting more than two people to travel in a vehicle at the same time and having all groceries and medications delivered to the door.

"In our culture, we're so used to have big gatherings," Hart said. "This is hard for us."

Hart and other members of the council have been posting daily updates on the band's YouTube channel.

They've also been posting videos on the band's Facebook page of happier times — like dances and community gatherings.

The community also held a snow sculpture contest, encouraging residents to get outdoors and get creative, while still keeping physical distance from each other.

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation has put new rules in place for citizens to remain in the community. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

In a letter to the Newfoundland and Labrador government, First Nations leaders asked the government to stop all traffic coming into their communities.

They stated they were at a higher risk for several reasons, including health complications, an abundance of elders and infants, and the fact that many families have several generations living together in one house.

The Miawpukek First Nation in southern Newfoundland has also put up a roadblock at the entrance to the community.

With times changing rapidly in Labrador, the Innu communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish are sharing phone numbers for a mental health hotline.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador