Emotional testimony closes out Sheshatshiu meetings for inquiry into treatment of Innu children in care

Florence Milley, testifying Friday at the inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in care, said the government and child protection system have failed the Innu.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
Florence Milley, testifying Friday at the inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in care, said the government and child protection system have failed the Innu. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Community meetings in Sheshatshiu for the inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in care wrapped up Friday with emotional testimony on systemic failures, abuse and intergenerational trauma caused by the government's child protection system.

Florence Milley of Sheshatshiu, testifying Friday, said government workers took her and her younger brother away on a plane when she was four years old.

"I was crying, screaming and they told me to shut up," Milley said. "I never healed from what happened because I was put in a system that sexually abused me at the age of four."

Miley said she and her brother were put in a house on the island with two Inuit boys from Nain. Milley said all were raped daily by the foster parents.

"The system didn't want to listen to us. I remember a social worker coming to the house and they said, 'Are you OK, Florence?' and I said, 'No, they're hurting us.' 'Oh, you'll be all right tomorrow,'" Milley said.

Milley said she wanted to jump out of the foster parents' two-storey house.

"I almost jumped out because I wanted to end my life at the age of four," she said.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Milley said she was there for nine months. She said she has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic disorder and learned the two Inuit boys who were also in the home took their own lives.

"That's the sad truth of how the system does not work for the Innu, for the Inuit, for any Labradorian, for that matter," said Milley, whose mother, Emma, also testified to her own abuse, by a priest who raped her. "The government is failing the Innu."

The Inquiry into the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System is investigating systemic issues, and commissioners James Igloliorte, Mike Devine and Anastasia Qupee  are expected to make recommendations in a final report by October 2024.

Milley's story was one of a long list of systemic failures and abuses heard by the commissioners this week, in both private and public testimony. Sheshatshiu's Angela Gregoire told Igloliorte on Thursday that either he or another judge sent her to a girls' home in Pleasantview when she was a child.

Gregoire said she believes the judge was trying to help her but group home staff cut her long hair, called her a savage, and some physically abused her and raped her.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"When I told the social worker that this is what's happening to me, nobody believed me. All they told me was that 'Angela? You're very lucky you got a bed to sleep in and you got food to eat,'" Gregoire said.

She said there were some good workers who taught her English, manners, mathematics and more, but she should have never been abused. Gregoire said she wished she had been placed in a good home in Sheshatshiu and been taught her language and culture. Children should be placed locally before being sent far away.

Sheshatshiu's Roxanne Rich testified Thursday that social workers didn't help her either. Rich told the commission her father sexually abused her and mother physically abused her. At age 11, she gained the courage to speak to the local social worker, she said.

"She told me, 'Go to school, I'll take care of this,' and I remember feeling I was so happy. I was so happy that they may remove me," Rich said.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

But Rich's father came to the school at lunch and took her home, where he beat her badly for speaking out, she said. It would be years before she was able to trust a teacher to share what was happening, and she was removed from the home.

There wasn't time for all Innu who wanted to address the commissioners to testify, so more community sessions in Sheshatshiu are planned for the fall. The inquiry will be in Natuashish in August for the next community meetings.

Phone numbers on the inquiry website are available for anyone in Natuashish, Sheshatshiu or elsewhere in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region looking for healing and crisis help, and anyone in the province can call Newfoundland and Labrador, any time, for mental health support. 

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