Nfld. & Labrador

'Trapped for the rest of our lives:' How Innu mother and son see Sheshatshiu crisis

With the community of Sheshatshiu in Labrador declaring a suicide crisis this week, Innu elder Rose Montague says young people are struggling for a number of reasons.

Rose Montague says young people are suffering from lack of traditional culture

Rose Montague, right, is an Innu elder in the Sheshatshiu First Nation community. Herman, left, is her son. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

As mental health support workers offer their help in light of a suicide crisis in the First Nations community of Sheshatshiu, N.L., one Innu elder has some idea of what's happening to young people there.

"They're trapped, nowhere to go, and they feel lost," Rose Montague says of young people.

Sheshatshiu has lost 14 people to natural causes this year, and after a 20-year-old woman drowned over the weekend, 10 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 attempted suicide — prompting the chief to declare a crisis Tuesday. 

Montague said a lot has changed since she was a child, and the current reliance on smartphones and social media — combined with a disconnect from the Innu language and traditions of their culture — have put Sheshatshiu youth in a dangerous position. 

"They used to go back in the country and play outside and be happy and have their fun, and there was no iPhones or internet that played a role in their lives back then." 

"Too much stuff going on here … people with drugs, too much drugs. All the kids doing drugs. I feel sad about it sometimes.… I feel afraid." 

Echoed by next generation

Her son, Herman Montague, agrees with her. 

We have to keep practising our culture to stay healthy.- Herman Montague

"Sometimes this stuff can lead to trouble, in trouble with the law. You know, just being a bad person. Terrorizing people, throwing rocks at their houses," he said. 

"This goes on pretty much every night.… It plays a big role in the community as well, where kids get apprehended."

He said children today need more of the traditional cultural activity that filled his mother's childhood, in order to keep them out of trouble.

"She did things culturally, like cleaning animals and preparing and going out and enjoying what she had in front of her. Kids are drinking and drugging and it's not healthy at all, and you don't see many kids outside," he said.

Giving them something to do

Herman Montague said the community needs more resources to help keep kids busy, like a local sports complex.

"I think there should be more money redirected or directed at these things to fix these problems on reserves. Because we are trapped and we are trapped for the rest of our lives, you know? And so our kids and our elders are trying to stress that," he said.

"We have to keep practising our culture to stay healthy,"


Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/ (chat)

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.

Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jacob Barker

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