Friday, 11 September 2015

Where I Find Myself

Where is home? It is a question I've pondered on this blog before, and undoubtedly will do so again. Today I'm talking about a different sort of home. Labrador - the wild part - is vast and awesome in the real meaning of the word. The communities that are speckled across it, like the freckles on my shoulders in early spring, are small and isolated. Several of them are communities made up primarily of indigenous people. I live in a town of settlers, settled when most of the Innu (one of two indigenous peoples here) were mostly on the move. They would come to this part of Labrador in the summer, when fishing was good, and the bugs in the interior too thick and voracious to ignore. Now they are settled here permanently in a community called Sheshatshui. The other community of Innu is farther north, in a place called Natuashish. Families do still go between the two but by plane and boat mostly. Natuaushish  has no white community nearby like Sheshatshui does and so has a slightly different set of opportunities and obstacles.

I work in Sheshatshui. I work for a treatment centre that works with indigenous families from Labrador (both Innu and Inuit) Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I also work as an outreach counselor in Sheshatshui. So that is two different sets of people. As the outreach counselor I go into the community - the school mainly and group homes and halfway houses.

Since I started going to the school (late spring and now this fall) I have fallen in love with the community. It is a tortured love though, as this is a tortured community. I think if I posted photos of the community you might think I'm in a war torn part of the world. And I am. The war is not between the people and substance abuse, as many might assume. No, the drug and alcohol abuse is simply a symptom, or a lousy coping device. The war is between hope and despair. It is between an image of a strong and independent people and the ones who were left after they were shamed and traumatized by those-who-know-better. I am learning not to dwell on that though. It is pointless and doesn't make things different. The image I hold in my heart is that I am Hawkeye Pierce or maybe Hot Lips Hoolihan and I work in a M.A.S.H. unit.  We don't have the fancy tools that downtown hospitals have (in this analogy that would be a solid team of trained professionals, suicide teams, shrinks, holistic health-care workers). We have to make do with what we do have. We have to try with the skill sets available to reach kids who have seen and experienced atrocities that would fell any one of us. We have to remain positive when we feel like screaming and giving up. We have to keep on keepin' on - just like the kids do. And they do. They are full of fun and smarts and love.

This week is a hard one. It is Band Council elections. That means that candidates have been bringing in truck loads of beer and the parties have been non-stop. The kids are suffering and so are those parents who struggle daily with their own addictions or those of their children. It is backwards and awful and there is no way out of it but through. The election is today. By Monday maybe things will be quieter. I sure hope so.

Last night I got home and started knitting. Then I started crying. Luckily I have a swell guy who gets what is going on. Today I'm going back to the school and I can't wait to get there. Because it feels like where I need to be and that is how we think of home isn't it?


  1. Replies
    1. I don't feel frustrated so much as heart sore. Yesterday when I was on my way to the school at noon, I saw about 7 adults careening down the pit-holed road, their hands grasping beer bottles. On the other side of the road was a child of about six, going back to school. He thinks this is normal and he will be a parent too.

  2. It does sound like a real struggle, Jan. But I also get the very strong feeling that you are where you need to be right now. And what a lovely environment. I'm glad you've met some good people, too.

    1. I like all the Innu I meet. They are amazingly friendly, smart and resilient. I'm not judging them (well, yes, I am judging those leaders who were buying votes with beer) but more puzzling how to help in the face of such ongoing trauma. And yes, it is exactly where I want to be.

  3. Jan you carry that lantern of hope, I have known some recovered Innu from that hopeless pit of despair, one I got really close to saw her father murder her mother in a drunken rage when she was 4, leaving 9 children under 10. Foster care and the horror and sexual abuse of that system.

  4. Last night I went to sleep hearing a band playing across the river. Now it will be quiet for a few dayx. Crazy.

  5. So beautifully written, Jan.

  6. It's good work that you are doing and it takes a special fortitude. I don't have any answers. We live in a weird world and it's difficult to point fingers of blame for the ills that exist. The world keeps changing and the changes while often good are not always good, but there is no stopping change.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out