(Pakuashipi community members testifying at the MMIWG inquiry Tuesday. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Agnes Poker is a mother many times over and at Tuesday’s hearings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) she testified about the children she has lost.
“I had eight children in all, four in the tent, four in the hospital,” she told the commissioners. “If all of my children had been born in the tent, everything would have gone well for me, because then I would have seen them die with my own eyes.”
Poker was referring to how in the early 70s children in her Innu community of Pakuashipi would be airlifted from to Blanc Sablon, Que., near the northeastern border with Labrador.
Twice they did not survive
“I speak often to my lost children,” she said. “I would like to know where my two children are laid to rest. Every time I go to Blanc Sablon I go to the cemetery to try to find my children.”
But Poker said she doesn’t even know where her children are buried.
She testified that the hospital also refused to let her arrange or attend any funeral.
“This summer we went to an archaeological dig [in Blanc Sablon], and we said ‘if you find any children bones let us know’,” said Poker.
(Christine Lalo at the MMIWG hearings in Maliotenam. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Christine Lalo, also from Pakuashipi, had a similar experience with the health services in Blanc Sablon.
“When they died we were never given an autopsy report, only many years later we went back and only then did we find out what happened,” Lalo testified.
Tuesday afternoon’s testimony also touched on other difficult subjects that plagued the Innu territory 1,200 km northeast of Montreal.
Topics included a forced relocation of the community and a priest who was a sexual predator.
“We were at the church and I went to confession and I had to kneel before him on the ground and often the priest would invite us to sit on his lap and often he would say ‘I’m your father’ and I would try to give my confession, but when you’re young you don’t have much to say,” said Mary Mark, who chose to be sworn in by an eagle feather as opposed to a bible.
“And he would slide his hands under my shirt and he would caress my belly and then go lower.”
(Mary Mark testifying at the MMIWG inquiry Tuesday. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Thérèse Lalo also recounted further acts of sexual abuse by Father Alex Joveneau.
“Once he came to my place, he said ‘Thérèse, where is your mother?’ and I brought him to my mother, who was hiding. And then the priest was going towards the room with her and then he stayed there and I found that was hard to experience that event and when my father came home I told him.
“I didn’t know I was going to cause a fight that’s when the violence began between my father and my mother,” recounted Lalo through tears.
“I could not even speak out against him because people thought he was an important person, people thought he was the god, and me too, that’s how I thought of him.”
Mark spoke of how the sexual abuse left her with years of low self-esteem and affected her relationships.
She ended her testimony with a recommendation for the inquiry.
“People who were abused by this priest, they should be compensated in some way, so they can get help,” Mark said.
The day’s events were concluded with a traditional Innu song sung by Charles Mark, who thanked the First Nation of Maliotenam for hosting the inquiry. Hearings will continue Wednesday and last until Friday.