04/09/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Natuashish youth found sniffing gas at abandoned home

The Innu Nation deputy chief in the small Labrador community of Natuashish says enough is enough and something more needs to be done after he found a group of youth sniffing gas at an abandoned home.

Gas sniffing has been a continuing problem in the community, and Simeon Tshakapesh says he found a group including children he guessed as young as 11 sniffing solvents.

Tshakapesh said a gas tank was stolen from his property earlier this week and he went on a mission to find out what happened to it.

After a fruitless search, Tshakapesh posted on his Facebook page asking friends if they knew where the "gas sniffers" were hanging out, and was directed to a house down the road.

"I was shocked to see the state of the house, but I was even more shocked to see young people sniffing gasoline in the house. They trashed the house, and I found a young girl sleeping in the tub, passed out with gasoline."

He guesses there were six or seven young people in the house, between the ages of 11 and 26. Tshakapesh said he couldn't tell for sure how old they were because they all fled the house when they saw him — except for the girl asleep in the tub.

Tshakapesh said he called the local RCMP detachment and the dispatch in St. John's, but was told officers weren't on patrol at the time.

'I can't give up hope'

The gas sniffing in Natuashish is nothing new. Less than two years ago, Tshakapesh spoke to CBC News saying the problem was getting progressively worse, and he called on government to do more to help.

However, Tshakapesh said people in the community seem to be losing hope that things will change.

"People are giving up, that's the sense I'm getting from the people. I am feeling myself, too, giving up, and I said that many times to my people," he said.

"Sometimes it feels like you're giving up hope, but I can't give up hope."

Bill Partridge, an addictions counsellor who worked in Davis Inlet in the 1990s and in Natuashish until last year, said the situation is certainly dire for the community, but it's nothing new.

There was a gas sniffing problem during his time working in the Davis Inlet community before it was relocated in Natuashish, Partridge said, and the issue persists because there's no safe place for youth to hang out in the community.

"They're driven out of their homes because their parents are maybe using drugs or alcohol or violent, they end up in the streets, they develop this subculture of their own. The abnormal becomes normal," he said.

"They start living on the streets, they start sniffing gas, no one cares, and it's just insanity."

Lots of work to be done

According to Partridge, simply throwing money and programs at the problem won't make it go away.

He said local leadership members need to be better taught how to manage the resources they have to ensure there is a safe environment for children to congregate.

Partridge added that the first thing the community needs to do is set up a safe facility for children who are being "unmanaged, unloved and uncared for away from the community," until they can overcome gas sniffing and re-establish a "sane relationship" with the community.

Meanwhile, Tshakapesh said, he's been in discussions with Health Canada for the last couple of weeks to come up with a way to tackle the problem.

He added that it's a very complex problem they're facing and gas sniffing is known to be extremely addictive, but without additional resources — like psychologists and addictions counsellors on site — it's difficult.

"It's going to take a lot of work, I think, [to get] where we want to be for 20 years from now," said Tshakapesh. "If we don't act today or tomorrow, it's going to be too late for the young people."