We've seen the faces of Innu children sniffing gasoline, shouting out that they want to die. We've witnessed their heartbreak on our television screens and read of their unbearable emptiness in our newspapers.
While our witness to their desperation has been at arms length, our Canadian missionaries have been there with the people of Natuashish, formerly of Davis Inlet in Labrador.
Their troubles have not healed or disappeared. The social, psychological and communal problems so present a few years ago in Davis Inlet have now merely been transferred to their new homes, and in some ways have even increased.
"Alcoholism, drug abuse and poverty continue to overshadow residents, young and old. And suicides, especially among the young, have increased," writes Oblate Father Chris Rushton of Our Lady of the Assumption and Our Lady of the Snows in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Last year, he writes, a "crisis management team" began at the community level. And while it's still in the infancy stage, and requires much presence, time and patience, "it does present a newfound and wonderful glimmer of hope."
The people of Davis Inlet didn't have a proper church, Father Chris writes. The building back in Davis Inlet functioned as a chapel/court/theatre/dance hall.
But last year the Band Council was able to secure a loan and built a small church in Natuashish, as well as an apartment for the missionary.
Previously, parishioners had been without regular services for over three years, and missionaries did what they could to bring Christ's healing to parishioners by "carrying church around in their suitcases!"
Imagine the joy and excitement there this past Christmas. They now have a beautiful new church, with real pews. Father Chris writes: "Christmas Day was celebrated with 17 baptisms! Everyone now lines up so they can be FIRST ones for the various sacraments."
And with various catechetical programs starting up, there is indeed much to celebrate in Natuashish.
While the nearby community of Our Lady of the Snows in Sheshatshiu continues to present challenges, there too is hope.
Sheshatshiu is located 40 kilometres from Goose Bay, and Father Chris writes people there are recognizing how addictions can be addressed in programs , and more and more are asking for help in setting them up. And because of the horrendous toll that death is exacting in their lives, people are asking for help in their grief. "These are all positive movements. It shows people are taking responsibility for their lives. They want to move on," Father Chris writes.
Plans are also underway to involve community Elders in the sacraments of initiation catechetical programs.
Bishop Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., of the Diocese of Labrador City-Schefferville, explains that "the presence and ministry of the missionary is one of the stabilizing factors of life in the community. The grant from CMIC will assure the presence of the priest on a fairly regular basis!"
And from Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, Father Chris sends his own thanks to our donors.
"Without their assistance, we would not be able to function and thus two groups of Innu people would suffer from the lack of programs and services that the missionaries offer. We are very grateful. Please pass on our best wishes and gratefulness to all at CMIC!"