RCMP investigating burning of Innu elder’s tent
Elizabeth Penashue hurt and disappointed over actions of others
HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, NL – Pain filled Elizabeth Penashue’s voice as she talked about learning her tent had been burned to the ground in a wooded area near the North West River Highway.
“I was very, very sad,” the 73-year-old said in a recent phone interview.
“Sometimes, I sit down and cry ... first time I heard what happened, I couldn’t sleep ... I am a good woman. When I try to do something, I work hard. Now my tent and all my chairs burned, and my stove gone ... everything I lost.”
The well-respected Innu elder enjoyed spending time in her tent, where she made traditional donuts and sold them to people coming through the area.
Penashue said she was giving the money she made from the sale of the donuts to her grandchild who is travelling out of the province to participate in a sporting event.
“I was making a little bit of money, but it didn’t work,” she said.
Penashue apologized during the interview for her broken English. She left school in Grade 4, she said, because her parents were hunting in the country and took their family with them.
Memorial University awarded Penashue a Doctor of Laws honorary degree in 2006. She is the subject of a book, Marie Wadden’s “Nitassinan,” and a film, the National Film Board’s Hunters and Bombers. Kanani Davis, Penashue’s daughter, said her mother was out of the area at the time the tent was burned and family members first thought that someone had taken it down.
“Someone told us that they saw an ambulance and a police car there. So we called the police and they informed us that they were indeed called because there was a fire there,” Davis said.
Her mother was hurt when she realized what had happened, Davis said.
“When we first took her up there and she could see all the soot and the ashes, she was really disappointed and kept wondering who would do this,” Davis said.
Penashue was particularly upset to have lost a chair that she was keeping in memory of her husband, Francis Penashue, who died in 2013, her daughter said.
The chair was of worth little monetarily but was of great sentimental value to her mother, Davis said,
“Mom bought that chair on one of her trips with my dad. They took it everywhere because it was a little chair that you fold out. You could just take it in your hand and use it as a cane,” she said.
While she’s still shaken by the crime, Penashue said she will continue her work in keeping her Innu culture alive and sharing her knowledge with others.
“I will keep going. It’s very important what I am doing. I try to help Innu people,” Penashue said.
“I explain to children both is very important – school and our culture. Kids, when I take them in the country – to walk – they are very, very happy. Sometimes, they say to me, ‘Elizabeth, I don’t think about alcohol here. Or drugs. I’m so happy here.’”
When asked about the status of the investigation, the RCMP said it is ongoing.
Anyone with information that could help with the investigation is asked to contact the Happy Valley-Goose Bay RCMP at 709-896-3383. Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous, can contact Crime Stoppers toll free at 1-800222-TIPS (8477), text TIP190 + your message to ‘CRIMES’ (274637) or submit a webtip at www.nlcrimestoppers.com.
Elizabeth Penashue says she’s very sad over the burning of her tent near the North West River Highway.
Elizabeth Penashue’s tent was burned down recently, and she’d like to know why.