McGillivray, Dr. Jane, Farewell to the Innu (An extract from a letter dated February 7, 2000, when she closed her practice among them after ten years, as reproduced in the National Post, December 4, 2000, page A8).

by Robert Brow   (

"I have been feeling deep grief in the past months with the many death and alcohol-related tragedies. Perhaps the final recognition of how impossible it is for me to continue has come with the recent election (of the six-member band council plus chief), with so many candidates buying alcohol and bingo tickets in order to obtain votes, so many citizens' votes for sale.

In a community with such vast negligence of children and, indeed, of the human spirit, this has been untenable for me. I have always believed in the richness and wealth of the Innu culture and Innu resourcefulness. Now it seems very few people in Sheshatshiu can see what I see. The path into a future of happiness and wholeness for Innu people is something worthy of dedication and commitment. The hatred and the apathy and the anger that I see infecting almost all the people in this community and the resulting violence have disheartened me deeply. I do not support this behaviour, nor do I want to dedicate my life to enabling it . . .

I do not know what it will take to break the wretched hold of cruelty and neglect and apathy with which Sheshatshiu citizens have hurt each other.

I only know, every day for the past few months, I have cried thinking of little Vincent Michel (who burnt to death in a house fire while his parents were drinking), the trivial life of Nintendo and gas sniffing that he avoided by dying. Vincent is a child among many children sharing the same kind of life. It is just not good enough. Not for me, not for any of the children of Sheshatshiu, nor for any of the adults who are presently engaging so wilfully in drunkenness, debauchery and denial.

When I first began wanting to work here, I remember (community leader) Ben Michel saying, "We don't need you to judge us. We need you to care for us." I have held those words in my heart and tried my best to live with them. I can now see so clearly that the compassion I have tried to nurture has, if anything, served to increase the victim mentality which is perhaps at the root of the problem.

Someone said: "A slave is also a person who waits for someone else to set him free." I do not know who or what will serve to bring people here to set themselves free. I do not know if the community will survive, or if in the next 50 years, diabetes, AIDS, suicide, gas sniffing and alcoholism will just be the end of it.

I know that the strength for change comes from the heart, for each person's heart, and not from the outside, not from people like myself, not from business, not from the government. The task of accepting responsibility for our own lives, regardless of who we are, is a great challenge. It is my challenge as well as yours.

I pray to the Great Spirit that hearts open, that love flows and that the beautiful gift of the Innu is not extinguished."

As I read this letter I was touched by the ten year dedication of Dr .Jane McGillivray to this lonely work among the Innu people. I was moved by her prayer for their hearts to open, and that love might flow among them.

It is time to face up to the fact that trying to do people good never does anybody any good at all. It is bad enough if the attempt to do good is by totally dedicated people like Jane McGillivary (as she herself came to see so clearly). But doing good is mostly disastrous when done by well meaning civil servants.

As we have seen at great cost, the attempt to do good by Anglican and other denominations has done far more harm than good. Better stick to inviting others to join with us in the prayer that begins every Anglican communion service. "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you." And if the Innu want to call him "the Great Spirit" I really don't think he would mind.

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