`Most of us here are Indigenous’

 By Peter Jackson

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A resident of Happy Valley-Goose Bay says she had one clear message to give to Justice and Public Safety Minister John Hogan when he came to town last week to address complaints of lawless behaviour by transients: “Most of us here are Indigenous.”

Elaine Learning-Hinks, who is southern Inuit, was one of several dozen people who held a rally outside the Labrador town’s offices a week ago as Hogan and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Ebert met with officials and residents.

Hogan and Ebert stopped outside to hear what they had to say.

Part of that exchange was caught on video by another resident.

“I did want to make it clear to the minister that despite how I look, I am Indigenous,” Learning-Hinks told The Telegram this week.

“We’re first- and second-generation residential school survivors.”

Learning-Hinks says she and others in the town consider themselves lucky not to have succumbed to addictions and mental-health issues like those who camp on the outskirts of town during the summer and well into the fall.

Many of the transients come from communities where alcohol is banned, she said.

“We feel for these people. I have empathy, but I was glad the minister was here and wanted him to see first-hand what we’re experiencing here, both from the perspective of the people who are living in the woods, the transient lifestyle, the addictions, whatever, and the rest of us, from our point of view, as well.”

Residents have been calling for a more robust police presence in light of escalating lawlessness this past summer and fall.

Hogan went on an RCMP patrol and checked out the trail system while he was in town.

Several residents held a vigil later the same day to bring attention to the plight of the transients, whose voices rarely get heard.

Learning-Hinks says she fears for their well-being, especially as winter sets in.

“Every night when I look at the temperature, I’m thinking about these poor souls, because sadly, we’ve had people succumb to the elements.”

Six people have died in the past few years.

Last winter, two people were found dead in separate incidents outside the Housing Hub shelter and the Labrador Inn, which provides overflow accommodations.

But the problem is more complex than providing emergency shelter.

A number of outreach workers have been tasked by various government agencies to look out for their welfare, but the manager of the Housing Hub shelter says people still fall through the cracks.

“The individual that perished outside the shelter, had he come to the shelter door  that night, he would have had a place to stay,”

Michelle Kinney told The Telegram last month. “The lady who died at the Labrador Inn had a room at the Labrador Inn, so it wasn’t an accommodation issue.”

Learning-Hinks, meanwhile, says she’s optimistic Hogan got the message.

“I’m hopeful, because he took the time to listen to us. He even went out on the trails and saw first-hand the lifestyle.”

An acute response team formed in June to explore short-term solutions is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 21.

That team includes Hogan and three other provincial cabinet ministers.

  Peter Jackson is a  Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE TELEGRAM

The LJI program is federally funded.

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