The Innu of Davis Inlet threw Canadian justice and RCMP officials out of their community a month ago, and they want them to stay out.
“They have no jurisdiction over us,” said Davis Inlet chief Katie Rich in a phone interview with The Nation. “We have never signed any agreements. We have never signed a treaty. They have imposed these laws on us. ”
The island community of Davis Inlet got international attention last January when several children were found high from sniffing gasoline fumes, saying they wanted to die. The community again grabbed headlines in late December when Rich and 30 other Davis Inlet residents interrupted court proceedings in the community, asking the judge to leave. Rich and other Davis Inlet women led the spontaneous protest after sitting in on the court proceedings and deciding the judge was treating Innu prisoners unfairly.
Judge Robert Hyslop, who presided over the hearings, intimidated and made fun of several witnesses and handed out unreasonable sentences, said Rich. “It was quite obvious he didn’t know what was going on,” she said. Neither he nor the court interpreter were from the community.
Rich decided to act after the judge gave one Innu man, a repeat offender with a history of solvency abuse, what she felt was an exorbitant sentence – three-and-a-half years for a break-and-enter charge. She said the justice system had not helped this man deal with his problems. “It’s no good just to punish people. You have to heal them. And you can’t just heal one person. You have to heal the whole family.”
Hyslop left the court house when Rich presented him with a letter listing the community’s complaints. A crowd of 150 then gathered outside a cabin where RCMP officers held 12 Innu prisoners. Rich said the police let the prisoners go to avoid further confrontation.
Rich called for a month-long cooling-off period during which no outside police would enter the community. “The tensions are still too high,” she said. “People here in the community are prepared to defend themselves.”
Rich also released a three-page plan to reform the justice system to show more sensitivity to Innu people. She called on Newfoundland and Ottawa to recognize Davis Inlet’s four Innu peacekeepers as legitimate law enforcement officials.
But both levels of government have refused to discuss the Innu proposals, saying the RCMP and Judge Hyslop must be allowed into Davis Inlet and all 12 Innu prisoners must be returned to police custody. Newfoundland Justice Minister Ed Roberts threatened to send 60 RCMP officers back into the community in a military helicopter. The minister also said he may charge the leaders of the protest.
Innu peacekeepers finally handed the 12 prisoners over on January 2, but negotiations on the justice system have yet to commence. “Every proposal we put on the table, they refuse to discuss,” Rich said. Federal Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin also rejected an invitation to visit Davis Inlet.
The Innus were relocated to the isolated Davis Inlet location in 1967 after a hydro-electric project flooded their original village.
They want to relocate again to the nearby mainland location of Sango Bay, but have met with government stalling.
At the request of the Innus, the solidarity organization Peace Brigades International has announced plans to send two people to Davis Inlet to act as observers. Donations are welcome. Cheques can be made payable to Peace Brigades International, c/o the North America Project, Steve Molnar, HC 65 Box 138,
Canton, NY, 13617, USA.