Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking the Other Way While Children Die

   Unknown to most Canadians, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples’ rights is wrapping up a seven-day investigative trip to Canada this week. James Anaya is collecting information for a UN report on how Canada treats its native people. The short answer to that is: The same way it has for the last several hundred years – shamefully.

   It’s not that simple for the UN, however. Anaya will take the next year to write his report. He visited Ontario, Quebec and the West but not the Maritimes, noteworthy because one of this country’s most disgraceful examples of native plight exists on the East Coast.

   Gas-sniffing native children continue to die or become brain damaged in Natuashish in Newfoundland-Labrador. This is nothing new. The situation has existed for years. Every once and a while it attracts the attention of the news media and governments get involved by pasting over the horrors with a new wallpaper job.

   Natuashish is the planned community built 11 years ago to replace Davis Inlet, the previous hell-hole home of the Mushuau Innu. The new village cost the feds $200 million but has not eliminated the social problems that occur when a peoples’ traditional culture is destroyed.
   Davis Inlet was one horror after the next. One-quarter of the roughly 500 residents had attempted suicide. Alcoholism and gas-sniffing were rampant. Children dying in fires or because of addiction were commonplace.
   Little changed at the new village of Natuashish. The Labradorian newspaper recently quoted the community mental health therapist as saying he has 28 children who are chronic gas sniffers
   The gas sniffers range in age from nine to early teens, but start as early as age seven. They stagger through the streets every night, laughing and shouting while carrying sniffer bags of gasoline.
   Damage from deliberately-set fires and graffiti are seen throughout the community. One recent piece of graffiti reads: “We want to die. Nobody’s listening to us.”
   Chief Simeon Tsha-kapesh was quoted by the newspaper: “If that happened anywhere else in Canada with non-aboriginal kids, I think Canada or the province … would step in and do something about it.”
   You betcha. However, Canada’s long-standing shame continues to exist in many neglected native communities.
   A year from now Anaya will issue his UN report. Some Canadians will express outrage. Canadian politicians and bureaucrats will fidget and babble. Then interest will subside, and more children in Natuashish and other Indian communities will stick their faces into plastic gas sniffing bags.

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