It didn’t take long for me to realize that the stories people told me to "warn" me of what to expect in this town, were sadly, all true.
You may notice that the photos I took are not all that great – that’s because the only way taking these photos was possible was from the passenger seat of a moving van. We couldn’t stop – it was too dangerous. You see, the natives here have learned to blame "the white man" for everything, and they hate all white people. With Mike (the drummer with Dr. Zoo) driving the van while I shot photos from the passenger seat, we had adults and kids alike telling us to
"fuck off" as we drove by. I hid the camera thinking I was offending them, but that wasn’t the problem – it was the fact that Mike was white… So, the photos were the best I could do under the circumstances.
The Innu people’s serious problem with alcohol and substance abuse is at the root of this town’s problems. And evidently, it has gotten way out of control.
They have no respect for even their own property. All the windows in this town are broken from drunkenness, and then boarded up. When people warned me of this, I found it hard to believe, but then I drove through the town myself and saw that at least 90% of the windows were in fact boarded up. At least 90%!
To make matters worse, a lot of the homes in the town are missing pieces of siding, but not due to bad workmanship. When they run out of firewood to heat their homes, they run outside and pull the siding off their government supplied homes and use that as firewood! The government will supply them with a new house anyways…
Abandoned dogs roam wild in the streets and pick through the many piles of garbage scattered at random, looking for food. Every so often, teachers from the local school rescue puppies on their way home and bring them back to Goose Bay to try and find them permanent homes.
Most of the cars in the town are only a year or two old, but it’s not uncommon to see a relatively new car abandoned and run to the ground. it’s a well known fact that a lot of the Innu drive impaired – cars just don’t last very long here. The RCMP recently built a detachment in Sheshatshui, but the problems are so bad, there is really nothing they can do. it’s unmanageable at this point.
When we were setting up our equipment to play an afternoon concert in the school’s gymnasium, (kindergarten to grade 12), we witnessed kids abusing, and in one case, literally destroying the gym equipment. The gym teacher had to stand by and watch and couldn’t say anything – if the children are disciplined, they’re conditioned by their parents, peers, etc. to hate the "white man" even more and dismiss it as racism. The most common phrase that teachers hear from the students:
"you’re fuckin’ racist!"
The school has approximately 250 students enrolled, but I was warned that attendance was a big issue at this school, and we were told not to expect more than 150 kids. 40% expected truancy!? Wow. But in fact, when the gym was filled with all the students, we were told there were only about 50 kids in school that day.
And when the kids do go to school, it’s usually drunk or stoned, or high on something. (Usually gas.) Yes, our afternoon concert was to entertain misbehaved elementary students sitting on the floor, with junior high and high school students sitting at the back of the gym on the risers, some of them very obviously intoxicated.
A grade five teacher in the school told me how a month prior, she had gotten fed up with this one kid who always misbehaved and disrupted the whole class, and how he had been absent from class for more than two months. She decided enough was enough so she called the boy’s home and spoke to his mother. She explained over the phone that the situation had gotten so bad that she wouldn’t be able to allow the boy back in her class until one of his parents (or uncle, or grandma, or any sort of guardian) came into the school and sat down to talk with her and the boy. The mom’s response was shocking:
"I went into the school last year to do this already and I’ve had enough. he’s old enough now to make his own decisions. If he doesn’t want to go to school anymore, then that’s his decision."
Again, that was the mother of a grade five student, making the boy about twelve years old… Old enough to make his own decisions? Only in that town! How sad.
When we left the school and left Sheshatshui, (not the kind of place you want to linger around), on our drive out of town we passed by a group of young kids, (who were obviously among the 200 kids absent from school that day), sitting on the side of the road, sniffing gas from ziplock bags. Our farewell from the town was a collective
"fuck you" as we drove by…
When I got home and told my hosts about the things I saw and my reaction to them, I made the mistake of mentioning the word "poverty". I was quickly corrected and enlightened to the fact that poverty had nothing to do with it. The town of Sheshatshui is considered a native reserve so the people get a $1200 weekly cheque from the government, without having to do anything. On top of that, some of them choose to work and make extra money… The problem is definitely not poverty – it’s alcohol.
it’s a little disturbing that they blame the white man for everything and end every argument with an accusation of racism. Yet they know, and depend on the fact that every week they’ll get another cheque from the government, and every couple of years, a new house, maybe a new car, and even a new school…
Yes, these people need some serious help, but isn’t it obvious that free housing, free money, and free schools aren’t helping the situation? What do we expect to gain when we continue to fund these "lifestyle choices" and look the other way? Is it time now for the white man to show some tough love and finally cut them off? Will that help?