Nfld. & Labrador

Natuashish vote overshadowed by addictions

Chronic social problems in the Innu community of Natuashish have again emerged as a critical health issue as residents vote for new leaders.

Gas-sniffing teens roam through Innu community in darkness

Addictions and other social problems in the isolated Innu community of Natuashish in northern Labrador have again emerged as a critical health issue just as residents prepare to vote for new leaders.

Voters will choose new representatives for the Innu Nation, which oversees affairs of Labrador's Innu. Most live in either Natuashish or the central Labrador community of Sheshatshiu.

Natuashish was built in 2002, when residents began relocating from the former community of Davis Inlet. (CBC)

Allegations are swirling that some candidates in Natuashish have been trading alcohol for votes in the lead-up to the election. Natuashish residents have twice decided to keep the community dry.

Meanwhile, gas-sniffing children can again be seen roaming the streets of Natuashish, a town built just a decade ago when residents moved away from the dismal housing and living conditions of nearby Davis Inlet.

"There is nothing to do … I hate this town," said a teenaged girl who CBC News found walking through the community after midnight this week with four of her friends, all adolescents.

Scenes of gas-sniffing youth in Davis Inlet in the 1990s attracted worldwide attention, and helped spur the federal government to spend millions to build Natuashish, which was completed in 2002.

But addictions have been a stubborn problem, including for children.

One boy named Bradley, 17, said he has been sent away for treatment three times.

"It didn't work at all, no," he said, cradling a plastic bag that had been filled with gasoline. The teens told CBC News they had siphoned the gas from vehicles.

One girl said she hated the effects of having sniffed gas, but said she would keep doing it anyway.

"I don't feel good. It feels gross. I hate this town," she said. "It's boring. There's nothing to do. You only sniff gas. What the f**k is this?"

Policing presence increased

RCMP brought in three extra officers in advance of the Innu Nation vote. Police are empowered through Natuashish's bylaws to check aircraft and ships coming into the coastal community for contraband, although smugglers have clearly been able to evade detection.

RCMP have increased their presence in Natuashish this week. (CBC )

The teenagers said the RCMP will pick them up, but there are usually few consequences.

"They only take us home. They don't do anything," said a girl named Dream.

Some people in the community told CBC News that parents have to intervene more strenuously to break the cycles of addiction in the community.

One mother, who put her son in foster care after he began sniffing, said she has been worried sick.

"Natuashish is not a safe place for him right now. It's really hard — when I think about him every day, I cry for him," said the mother, who cannot be identified because of her son's foster care arrangement.

'Sometimes I can't find them'

Resident Kristin Piwas said she does not feel safe walking along the road with gas sniffers around, although she said that has not stopped her from looking for alcohol in the supposedly dry town, where pre-election parties are easy to find.

"There was a lady pouring the drink to the people. She kept saying vote for that person, vote for the person who was campaigning," she said.

Wendy Katshinak, a former gas sniffer, said she does not want to see other young people make the same mistake, but is not happy with what she is seeing.

"We talk to kids, but they don't listen. We couldn't get their moms when they're sniffing gas. Sometimes I can't find them," she said.

Katshinak said being put in foster care in Ontario helped straighten her out. She said getting away from the sniffing was the best thing to happen to her.

With files from Vik Adhopia