Innu Nation calling for province to follow through on inquiry after teen dies in care
Province announced inquiry in 2017
The death of a 15-year-old boy from Natuashish who took his own life while in provincial care has the Innu Nation calling on the federal and provincial governments to follow through on an inquiry into Innu youth in care that was promised three years ago.
The boy died by suicide in a group home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on May 22.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich says young people taking their own lives happens all too frequently in Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, but it's the first time a child in the care of Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development has taken their own life.
"We need to change the system. I have said in the past, this is a broken system and it's not working for the Innu youth in both communities," he said.
"It's not moving fast enough and I've been pushing this issue for quite some time with the federal and provincial [governments]."
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Rich said there must be answers.
"The Child Death Review Committee investigation required under provincial law will not be enough. That process is a closed committee process that to our knowledge does not involve any Innu. It is not transparent, and would not hear from the family or others. The inquiry is essential."
'This is a crisis'
Rich said the number of deaths has become a urgent concern for people in Natuashish and Sheshatshiu.
"We raised the flag with the CSSD people and told them this is a crisis and you have to act on it because our members in both communities are very worried and concerned about the youth taking their lives," he said.
Of a population of about 3,000 in Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, Rich said, about half are youths, and 167 of them are in care.
The band council in Sheshatshiu declared a crisis in October after a number of suicide attempts followed the death of a 20-year-old woman.
After this latest death, Rich said, more young people are expressing intentions of taking their own lives.
"Some of our young people on social media are also talking about taking their lives, especially those kids that are in care.… One person is hard enough," he said.
The provincial government announced an inquiry in July 2017, with the federal government getting involved in 2018, but the inquiry has yet to begin.
The Innu Nation has been exchanging emails with the province about the inquiry, Rich said, but the province hasn't been able to find a sitting or retired judge to head up the inquiry panel. He said the province told him officials are still searching.
Inquiry expected to begin in 2020
CBC News requested an interview with Premier Dwight Ball, in his role as minister of Indigenous affairs and minister responsible for Labrador affairs, for comment on the boy's death, but received only an emailed statement.
The statement, attributed to the premier's office, offered condolences to the family and the Innu communities and said the provincial government has been working with Innu leadership since the inquiry was agreed upon.
"We share the Innu desire to commence the inquiry and we are committed to continue working with our Indigenous and federal partners to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care," the statement said.
"We want to complete a process that helps all partners have a better understanding of the experiences of Innu children in care so that we can achieve better outcomes."
The statement also said the terms of reference for the inquiry have been finalized, and that government is in the process of finding a commissioner to lead the review. The government expects the inquiry to begin in 2020.
Rich acknowledged, via his statement late Thursday afternoon, that while progress has been made with the federal and provincial governments, more can be done.
"The progress we have made will not take away the need for answers. It will not take away the need for accountability. It will not take away the need for truth and for reconciliation, and most assuredly, it will not take away the need for the promised inquiry," he said.
Where to get help:
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis
With files from Chris O'Neill Yates