Content warning: This material contains information related to suicide.
RCMP Cst. Normand Thirnish-Pilot wanted to boost the spirits of young people in Pakua Shipu, Que. Growing up in the region, he knew that news of a young teen taking her own life was hard for the entire community.
I wanted to bring a little joy to the community where people are still suffering today from that suicide," says Thirnish-Pilot. "
It affected a lot of people and it affected me deeply as well. I just wanted to bring something positive and joyful for the kids in Pakua Shipu."
Pakua Shipu, about 1,300 kilometres northeast of Montreal, is an Innu community of about 300 people that sits at the mouth of the Saint-Augustin River near the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It can only be reached by plane or boat and the flight from Sept-Îles, Que. takes just over an hour.
Thirnish-Pilot, who works at the RCMP's Côte-Nord detachment in Sept-Îles, is familiar with the impact that suicide can have on a community. As a child in Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, an Indigenous community near Sept-Îles, his grandmother explained the realities of suicide when he asked why he stopped seeing certain people like his uncle around the reservation.
It happened a lot when I was growing up and when I became a police officer on my reservation I saw a lot then, as well," says Thirnish-Pilot, who was a police officer with the Sécurité Publique de Uashat mak Mani-Utenam before joining the RCMP seven years ago.
He teamed up with residents in Pakua Shipu and Uashat mak Mani-Utenam to start the Innu Auasset Sports Committee and promote activities for young people in the communities. Last year, they secured a donation of hockey equipment for youth in Pakua Shipu.
I wanted to work with people who know the kids. Pakua Shipu is far from here so I needed people who knew the needs of the kids," he says.
Thirnish-Pilot learned of the Goals & Dreams Fund — an NHL Player's Association initiative that helps grow hockey programs in communities around the world — when he was working in Valleyfield, Que. He knew hockey is popular in Pakua Shipu, so the program was a perfect fit.
I know on some reservations, hockey is almost like a religion. Kids love to play and there's a lot of good hockey players," says Thirnish-Pilot.
The committee completed an application in the spring and soon learned the equipment would be coming later in the year.
In November 2021, 25 sets of player equipment and two sets of goalie gear were delivered to the community. Thirnish-Pilot and Cst. Julie Duhamel helped youth get familiar with the new equipment.
Elders, teachers, school staff and parents were present for a special ceremony. A moment of silence was also held in memory of the young girl who passed away.
Duhamel, who works at the Côte-Nord detachment and played hockey as a young person, shared hockey stories from her youth with girls in the community.
It was a happy day, but there was a mix of emotions," says Duhamel.
For Thirnish-Pilot, getting to see the young faces light up was a highlight of the project.
When we got there, I immediately saw the kids have beautiful eyes that are wide and full of life. My wish is that they can keep that fire in their eyes for the rest of their lives," he says.
The event also allowed Thirnish-Pilot to speak to youth in Innu-aimun.
I like the Innu kids to hear me speak Innu with them," he says. "
I think it's a good thing to hear their own language coming from someone in an RCMP uniform."