Pubdate: Thu, 23 Nov 2000
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The Toronto Star
Contact:  One Yonge St., Toronto ON, M5E 1E6
Fax: (416) 869-4322
Page: A19
Author: Michael MacDonald, Canadian Press


- -Innu Girl, 16, One Of 12 Children Underdoing Addiction Treatment

SHESHATSHIU, Nfld. - Sixteen-year-old Angela Rich is sobbing quietly
as she tells how her little brother died when the bag of gas he was
sniffing spilled near a candle and exploded in flames.

``I want to die the same way my brother died . . . while sniffing
gas,'' the slight girl whispers in her native language as a tear
trickles down her cheek.

Rich was the first of 12 gas-sniffing Innu children to be taken from
their homes this week to receive treatment at a makeshift detox centre
set up inside a nearby military base in central Labrador.

The girl's disturbing story is being broadcast tonight on CBC TV's The

``I can't and I won't stop sniffing gas because when I do, I can see
my brother,'' Rich says of 11-year-old Charles, who died last April
after the inside of his throat was badly burned.

``This is no way to live.''

Rich and the other children and youths at the detox centre, who range
in age from 10 to 18, will be watched around the clock to make sure
they don't flee while enduring the cravings, hallucinations and icy
chills that sometimes come with withdrawal.

In the meantime, the RCMP are still looking for several other children
listed on a court warrant, which was requested last week by Innu
leaders desperate to help the growing number of gas sniffers in

Rich's brother Phillip, 13, was also named in the warrant.

A precocious boy with a quick smile, Phillip's mood quickly turns dark
when he is asked about the night his brother died.

``First, his leg caught on fire and . . . he made a kick at his
friend,'' the dark-haired boy says as he slumps in a chair. ``The gas
was spilled all over him and he went up in flames.''

What happened next has left Phillip suffering from constant

``Charles ran toward me when he was in flames . . . I, too, was
sniffing gas and the fumes were very strong on me. I ran away because
I was afraid I would catch on fire.''

A neighbour rushed into the house, pulled the burning boy outside and
doused the flames.

Now, Charles visits Phillip in his sleep.

``I dreamed we were in a graveyard and he was telling me to go to the
dark end of the graveyard,'' Phillip says through an interpreter - his
uncle Louis. ``I woke up sweating.''

Phillip stopped sniffing gas for a while after his brother died. But
that didn't last long.

``Shortly after Charles was buried, my father started drinking again .
. . And I was mad. That's the reason I went back to sniffing again.''

``I often think about . . . committing suicide. And other times, I
feel if I commit suicide I will not see my younger brother again.''

It remains unclear how long Phillip and the other children will remain
at the detox centre at Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay, about 33
kilometres south of Sheshatshiu.

Provincial health officials say the move is just a temporary
arrangement, but they have declined to speculate on what will happen
next. A new team of social workers and mental health specialists was
flown to the base yesterday.

Innu leaders in Sheshatshiu say while the children are away, the many
alcoholic parents in the destitute town of 1,200 must also be given
help to overcome their destructive addictions.

Meanwhile, an Innu leader in northern Labrador issued a statement
yesterday saying his people in Davis Inlet are suffering from the same
problems as those in Sheshatshiu.

Chief Simeon Tshakapesh says 35 per cent of the 169 youths in Davis
Inlet are chronic substance abusers who desperately need help. About
600 people live in the grim island community.

Tshakapesh is demanding a long-term, federally sponsored ``healing
process'' for the town's youth.

In 1993, the community attracted international attention after six
Innu youth were videotaped sniffing gas and screaming that they wanted
to die in an unheated shack in the winter.

The uproar that followed prompted Ottawa to commit to building a new
community nearby on the mainland. The new, $113-million town, called
Natuashish, should be ready for occupancy as early as next summer.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake