Innu worker warned Royal Commission of contemporary issues back in 1992

Janet Bellefleur, left, Rose Gregoire, centre, and Theresa Gregoire. Bellefleur said her mother Rose worked with child protection services for years in Sheshatshiu, and was consistently frustrated by the lack of understanding or willingness to learn by social workers and governments. (Submitted by Janet Bellefleur - image credit)
Janet Bellefleur, left, Rose Gregoire, centre, and Theresa Gregoire. Bellefleur said her mother Rose worked with child protection services for years in Sheshatshiu, and was consistently frustrated by the lack of understanding or willingness to learn by social workers and governments. (Submitted by Janet Bellefleur - image credit)

The words of a renowned community worker from 1992 are being read to the inquiry on Innu in the child protection system in 2024, highlighting the issues that continue more than 30 years after they were brought forward to public hearings.

Rose Gregoire was 43 in 1992 when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples came through Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation.

Gregoire wrote a letter and addressed the commission, which released its final report in November 1996. It was a five-volume, 4,000-page report that included 440 recommendations.

More than 30 years later, Gregoire's granddaughter, Nykesha Gregoire read the 1992 submission into the record at the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the child protection system.

Janet Bellefleur and her daughter, Nykesha Gregoire. Bellefleur testified Wednesday at the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System in Sheshatshiu, about the importance of keeping Innu children in their home community. (1/24/2024)
Janet Bellefleur and her daughter, Nykesha Gregoire. Bellefleur testified Wednesday at the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System in Sheshatshiu, about the importance of keeping Innu children in their home community. (1/24/2024)

Janet Bellefleur, left. and her daughter, Nykesha Gregoire. Bellefleur testified in January at the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System in Sheshatshiu, about the importance of keeping Innu children in their home community. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Nykesha's reading highlighted the issues her grandmother was worried about and how little has changed surrounding a number of important current issues.

In her submission, Rose said Innu faced racism in a variety of institutions, there was a lack of understanding or willingness to learn about Innu culture, and people were suffering from trauma or with addictions without proper supports. She wrote that she wasn't optimistic that governments would listen to Innu on what was needed.

"The government looks at Innu people like we're just a bunch of animals," Rose said. "As if we don't know the difference."

Rose described the racism she faced as a child, the racism she experienced when she began working at the nearby hospital, and stereotypes she faced. At the time in 1992, she had been working with the provincial social services department for eight years, quickly becoming tired and frustrated with the system.

"I don't know how many different social workers I've worked with. I work as a family support worker with social services and different social workers, and I'm tired and very frustrated in telling them about my culture and the people here," Rose said.

"A year from that, another white social worker comes in and I have to do the same thing, telling them who lives here," she said. "We're not stupid. We can do the job ourselves."

Warnings from 1992 holding true today: Bellefleur 

At least one of Roses's recommendations was followed. She said the Innu needed to take over their own local government and school which is something the Innu have since taken control of and run independently. However, Rose also said  said Innu also need to run their own social services, policing and counselling needs to be offered in correctional centers to help stop the cycle of addictions and abuse.

Rose died in 2007, and was fearful of the future, said Rose's daughter Janet Bellefleur to the inquiry commissioners.

"She said 'I look at my grandchildren' and she said 'I feel scared' because she said things are bad. Now she said 'Imagine what they're going to be like in 20 years' time,'" Bellefleur said.

Janet Bellefleur and her daughter, Nykesha Gregoire. Bellefleur testified Wednesday at the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System in Sheshatshiu, about the importance of keeping Innu children in their home community.
Janet Bellefleur and her daughter, Nykesha Gregoire. Bellefleur testified Wednesday at the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System in Sheshatshiu, about the importance of keeping Innu children in their home community.

Janet Bellefleur, left, and her daughter, Nykesha Gregoire. Bellefleur says when she was younger, she never would have thought that her mother's predictions of a worse future would come true. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Rose warned Bellefleur that if governments do not listen to what the Innu need and provide the proper supports, the drinking is going to get worse, more drugs will come into the community, and people will turn to prostitution and homelessness, Bellefleur said.

"In my mind, 20 years ago, I couldn't foresee that," Bellefleur said. "Everything that she said has come true. All of those things that she talked about happening in the future, they're happening right now."

Since Rose's submission, the number of homeless people in central Labrador has grown, and the issue of drugs in the community has been highlighted recently by parents and advocates.

The drinking, abuse and substance use all stem from trauma but more supports are needed, Bellefleur said.

It was something Rose worked to help people heal and now her daughter Bellefleur and granddaughter Nykesha are continuing her legacy. Bellefleur runs the local emergency placement homes and Nykesha has a bachelor's degree in social work.

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