Numerous area dignitaries were in Sheshatshiu on Thursday, Aug. 16 for the grand opening of the new Shushepeshipan (Joseph Nuna Sr.) Group Home on the reserve.
Eugene Hart, Chief of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation (SIFN), said this is the beginning of the process of bringing home their children.
The new facility, which is already in operation, will be staffed and run by mostly Innu.
Hart said it’s important to have Innu staff because language and culture has been an issue when Innu kids in protective care are placed outside the community and this will help.
“The main focus is the language, the culture loss,” he said. “When they come back they’re strangers, it’s like having strangers in the community. It takes a couple of years for them to warm up and get the feeling back its where they belong.”
Innu children in protective care being sent to other parts of the province and country has been an issue for some time and is part of an inquiry the provincial government launched in 2017.
The Innu Nation was concerned the federal government would not be participating directly in the inquiry but that issue has been resolved and the federal government will be a full participant.
Etienne Rich, Deputy Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, said they get a lot of calls from parents concerned about their children being sent hundreds of kilometres away while in protective care.
“They would like to see their kids come home and this will help with that,” he said.
Rich said Natuashish is also working on a similar project to help keep children in protective care from being sent away. He echoed Harts comments that bringing kids back to their home community will help maintain the culture and language.
He gave an example of a young girl now living in the group home in Sheshatshiu who lost the language but spoke it better than she spoke English when she left. Rich said both as a leader and as a resident of Sheshatshiu, he’s very proud to see this facility open.
The facility will house youth from the age of 12-18 and will focus on maintaining and recognizing Indigenous culture and values. It currently houses three children and can hold up to eight.
Hart said they are also working on two emergency placement houses on the reserve to place other children in protective care.
He said the initiative came about as a partnership between Indigenous Services Canada, the provincial Ministry of Children, Seniors and Social Development and the Innu leadership. According to a press release, the federal government funded the training of staff, to the tune of just over $1 million.
Lisa Dempster, Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, spoke at the event and said it was a significant step.
“I have only been in this portfolio for a year but I hope this shows you we have listened, we have heard,” she said. “You want your children in your communities and who better than to care for your children in your communities than you yourselves.”