DAVIS INLET, Nfld. (CP) - Police and native leaders were meeting Tuesday after a weekend of tension and mayhem in this tiny Labrador community.
A 10-hour armed standoff Friday night left one man injured. Police then spent much of the next two days dealing with a flurry of gas sniffing and alcohol-related incidents. RCMP Insp. Bernie House said police were constantly challenged by teens high on gasoline and booze. One Mountie was struck in the shoulder Saturday by a rock thrown from a slingshot when he and other RCMP officers responded to a disturbance at a home in the community. About 30 teens then gathered around the officers and started throwing rocks at them.
Also Saturday, children as young as nine years old were taken into custody for their own protection after they were found sniffing gasoline. It was the image of young children sniffing gas that first brought the Innu community to national attention several years ago.
On Sunday, an RCMP constable was confronted by another group of teens on bicycles. "One teenager walked toward the constable with a gasoline-filled garbage bag to his mouth," House said in a release. "A struggle ensued and the teenager tried to take the constable's weapon."
The officer sprayed the youth with pepper spray but it had little effect.
DAVIS INLET, Nfld. (CP) - There is nothing discreet about Lisa Gregoire's gasoline sniffing. The 12-year-old slips a white plastic bag to her nose from inside her trendy Adidas windbreaker and takes a whiff of the gas she has stolen from an all-terrain vehicle. Her chin is soaked in drool. Her body reeks of the acrid fumes. Her vacant eyes betray a high that is in full swing. Lisa stands outside the door of the weekly youth dance, but it's clear she is moving to music only she can hear as she walks in circles and flails her arms at invisible enemies.
Inside, under the multicolored swirl of a small strobe light, Adeline Rich and two friends try to shed their inhibitions and dance to the Top 40 extended mixes that blast from four large speakers. Around them, a group of boys, some as young as five, kick a scrunched up aluminum can. Another group sits in the corner, content to observe and be out of the cold fall air.
Adeline sees Lisa and looks away. Eight months ago, she might have been looking in the mirror. Two girls, two versions of the same story that was first brought to the worlds attention in the winter of 1993, when six Innu children were videotaped huddled in an unheated shack, high on gasoline fumes and screaming that they wanted to die.
The scene unfolding on this Friday night shows both how far this tiny, tortured community has come in healing its deep wounds and how far it has to go.
Adeline, 15, returned to Davis Inlet in August after spending six months at a solvent-abuse treatment program in London, Ont. "I was sniffing all the time," she remembers, blaming boredom and her parents own drinking problems. "But now I don't want to." So far, Adeline has steered clear of the plastic bags and not-so-secret hiding spots coveted by the sniffers who used to be her friends. She now laughs and hangs out with new buddies who think sniffing is "yucky." She babysits three days a week.
Lisa attended the same treatment program last fall, but failed to finish. Within months, she had returned to her old routine. Her exasperated mother watches helplessly as her only child skips school to sniff, coming home occasionally to eat or sleep. "I've tried everything to make her happy," says Jacqueline Gregoire, a secretary for the Mushuau Innu band council. "I bought her a stereo and clothes, but there's nothing else I can do."
Gregoire attends the dance with an adult supervisor, painfully aware of Lisa's activities outside. "It really hurts me to see her here sniffing but if I try to stop her, she talks about suicide and I'm afraid she might."
The last five years have brought some measure of change to Davis Inlet. The negative publicity that followed the video footage has helped the Innu get dozens of children into treatment programs in Ontario and Alberta. Discussions are continuing with the federal government for a family treatment centre much closer to home.
The 1993 crisis was also the catalyst for reaching a long-awaited agreement with the federal government to relocate the overcrowded community to nearby Little Sango Pond. Construction of the new community, which will have much-dreamed-of running water and flush toilets, is under way and is expected to be finished by 2001.
But sniffing remains a problem only some children have overcome. Just how many depends on who is asked.
Many in the community of 560 feel sniffing is only one piece of a much larger, more complex puzzle that adults must solve first before they can expect their children to change."We're seeing the same situation over and over again," says Prote Poker, 36, a former chief who used to be an addictions counsellor. "Children are sent out West for treatment. Some may have survival skills, but they're not using them because the community isn't helping." Alcoholism among parents is the biggest obstacle in the way of the children's recovery, he insists.
Poker, whose parents and five siblings drowned in a boating accident caused by drinking when he was 14, says more people need to take the necessary steps to recover from their own past tragedies.
In August, the council held a referendum to measure support for a complete ban on alcohol and solvent-sniffing in the community following a weekend of sniffing-related vandalism. Although the ban was approved by 62 per cent of voters, efforts to implement the policy are on hold until a new band election is held next week.
A recent increase in political turmoil that many here have dubbed "clan issues" is yet another diversion from the community's social problems, says Simeon Tshakapesh, who resigned as chief last month. "We're too busy fighting one another instead of fighting the issues as parents," says Tshakapesh, a former native police constable who discovered the children sniffing in 1993. "We're not working together."
Still, Poker believes the community has made a lot of progress from the mid-1980s, when the number of sober adults could be counted on one hand and the timing of beer shipments was measured by the number of women with black eyes the next morning.
"Yes, I have hope for the future," says Poker. "It's getting better. Now I see that it's bad, but it's not as bad."
a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction, in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."