A 15-year-old Innu boy died in the custody of the Department of Children, Seniors, and Social Development on May 22. Wally Rich reportedly took his own life in a CCSD-approved group home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the Innu Nation wants answers.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich said they want to know what led to the death of the teenager, and for the promised inquiry into Innu children in care to take place.
Three years ago, the province committed to the inquiry and is currently seeking a commissioner.
Rich said three years is a long time and they need to get it going. He said it’s good that the process is underway, but things need to change now.
There are already a number of recommendations in place, Rich said, such as those from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Indigenous governments and communities play a greater role in children in care.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing at the same time. We’re waiting for the governments to act on the issues, but they do nothing. Our young people are committing suicide, yet there’s no immediate plan or response to address the issue.”
Former Innu Nation deputy grand chief Simeon Tshakapesh echoes Rich’s frustrations. His son, Thunderheart, took his own life three years ago after being in care and coming back to Natuashish. The teenager who died May 22 was his cousin.
Following Thunderheart’s death, Tshakapesh campaigned for the inquiry and got a commitment it would be held. Three years later, nothing has really changed, he says.
“There were some changes in working relationships, but nothing is really happening,” Tshakapesh said. “The Innu Nation needs to take a hard stand and demand some answers, not just on the inquiry, but on what happened in that group home.”
Things need to change, Rich said, and both levels of government, federal and provincial, have to play a role. He said it’s obvious the policies in place around children in care aren’t working for them and need to change.
“We have ideas on how to address these problems, but it’s been a struggle to get them implemented. We know what will work for the kids, but it seems like we’re not being listened to. I don’t know why the governments won’t take action to address this issue.”
SaltWire Network requested an interview with the Department of Children, Seniors, and Social Development on the issue and was sent a statement attributed to the Office of the Premier. The statement said they have been working with the Innu Nation, have finalized the terms of reference that will guide the inquiry, and are in the process of identifying the commissioner(s) to lead a review into the treatment of Innu children in care.
"It is anticipated that an inquiry into the treatment, experiences and outcomes of Innu in the child protection system will be established in 2020," the statement said.
Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for SaltWire Network.