Nfld. & Labrador

Black Tickle residents make desperate plea to save community

An isolated Aboriginal community off the coast of Labrador is in crisis after learning it will soon have no permanent nurse or fuel to survive the harsh northern winter.

'If you don't have fuel in the Labrador winter, you die,' say residents in passionate letter

Black Tickle, Labrador, which has about 140 residents. (CBC)

An isolated Aboriginal community off the coast of Labrador is in crisis after learning it will soon have no permanent nurse or fuel to survive the harsh northern winter.

Residents of Black Tickle, a community of 140 people, have written a letter to the federal government asking them to step in and uphold commitments made to Indigenous people by providing the services they need.

Black Tickle is one of several southern Labrador communities whose residents belong to NunatuKavut, which represents what it calls the "southern Inuit" whose ancestors include Labrador's Inuit and settlers. 

The letter explains that Woodward, the community's only fuel operator, will not be delivering to the community this winter.

"Put bluntly, if you don't have fuel in the Labrador winter, you die," it read.

"You cannot get through the winter here without fuel."

Black Tickle's full time, onsite nurse was scheduled to be replaced by a fly-in visit once a week to the small island community. (Google Maps)

The loss of fuel delivery comes in the wake of even more bad news for Black Tickle, that the position of the sole nurse-practitioner will be eliminated as of Oct. 1. 

"We have a lot of sickness because we do not have running water in our homes and we have limited access to a potable water dispensing unit that is not consistently funded."

"We have had children suffer febrile seizures and the nurse saved them. We also have elders with COPD, lupus and chronic pain who are treated by the nurse almost every day and we have other people with other serious medical issues like diabetes."

No future

Black Tickle Service District Chair Joe Keefe says with 28 children in the community, and so many people with chronic health conditions, not having consistent access to a a nurse or fuel makes residents feel like they are being left to wither on the vine.

As well, the town's fish plant and main employer closed in 2012, putting the economic future of the town into jeopardy.

"It's not resettlement per se, it's more like a push-out," he told CBC's Labrador Morning Thursday.

"If you lose the nurse, if you lose the fuel, you lose this and that, what are you suppose to do? You've still got to live. Maybe it's impossible to live here, so you're going to have to move."

The Woodward Group will end regular fuel delivery service to Black Tickle during the winter months. (CBC)

The town has tabled a vote on resettlement in the past, but overwhelmingly voted in favour of staying put. Now they're desperately looking for solutions so that they aren't forced to leave regardless.

Keefe hopes the federal government will be more receptive to their pleas following last year's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"It's something that should help Indigenous people and maybe there is a possibility that they will look at our case, I don't know," he said.

"If you lose the nurse, you lose the fuel, you lose this and that, what are you suppose to do? Something has to be done, something has to give somewhere."

Options

Keefe says there is somebody in the community looking at starting up their own private fuel delivery, but the issue of no nurse practitioner still has no viable solution.

To offset the fuel problem, the provincial government has offered each household three empty barrels to store fuel in for the winter.

With the cold Labrador winter requiring much more than that, and far away Cartwright being the nearest place to buy more, residents say it is simply not a viable solution.

"How can we live here without a nurse," the letter said. "We are being forced out. We don't know where to go or how we will afford housing in other places."

"This is the place we want to live. It's where our ancestors lived and we hunt and fish like they did."

With files from Labrador Morning