Sister serves Innu in remote Labrador

Sr. Sheila Fortune

Sr. Sheila Fortune

May 13, 2013

When Oblates missionaries found an Innu community in the isolated interior of Labrador in 1857, they were shocked to hear the rosary being recited, said Sister Sheila Fortune, a sister of St. Joseph.

Without a priest for two centuries, Innu elders had passed down Catholic faith traditions from when the community was evangelized in the 1600s by the Jesuits. To this day, the Innu consider themselves a Catholic community, said Fortune, a missionary from the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador.

Fortune was guest speaker at an April 25 Catholic Missions in Canada fundraiser for the organization's work in Canada's mission territories.

Without the support of Catholic Missions, Fortune said she would not be the life co-ordinator in the Parish of Tshukuminu St. Anne.

She credits the financial support of Catholic Missions for funding community projects like a meal after Mass, work in a clinic or turning a church garage into a community multi-purpose room, and flying priests to where they are needed across the vast and remote diocese.

Fortune said the community was traditionally nomadic, following the caribou herd – a dietary staple for Innu – packing up their shelters, belongings and children when needed.

About 10 years ago, it moved from the interior at Davis Inlet to a permanent settlement in Shango Bay close to its hunting grounds. Fortune said the modern Innu community is 300 km inland from the coast of Labrador – accessible by plane and in summer by boat.

"When they were moved to Davis Inlet, the government had promised more houses and running water and a sewage system," said Fortune, but 30 years passed.

In 1993, there was a fire and, without running water, six children died. About a year later, children were found almost comatose from sniffing gas.

"Word was getting out about the desperate situation at Davis Inlet, and I think those two incidents were kind of the last straw."

The community started moving in December 2002.

"I believe there is a dream for them, that God has a dream for them. And I guess I hope in some small way, we're helping them to fulfill their dream, (even if) we may not see that in our lifetime," said Fortune.