A commissioner with the inquiry into the treatment and experiences of Innu children in the child protection system says they're in the beginning stages of preparing for hearings.
No dates for hearings have been set, but Anastasia Qupee, the former grand chief of the Innu Nation — who was appointed a commissioner for the inquiry last year — says they're working on preparing support staff and training them.
Qupee said giving people from the Innu communities of Natuashish and Sheshatshiu support and counselling during the inquiry will be crucial as they recount their traumatic experiences with the child welfare system.
"There's been a lot of children in both communities that were taken into care, some that haven't come back, some that tried to come back and adjustment has been really, really hard for them and their families," said Qupee.
Former Innu Nation deputy grand chief Simeon Tshakapesh first called for an inquiry into the treatment, experiences and outcomes of Innu children in May 2017 after his 16-year-old son died by suicide in Natuashish following addictions treatment away from the community.
Former premier Dwight Ball announced an inquiry in July 2017 and at that time, aimed to have it begin by that fall.
Meanwhile, about a third of children in Newfoundland and Labrador's foster care system are Indigenous, despite Indigenous people only making up about nine per cent of the overall population, according to Statistics Canada.
"That creates a lot of harm, that creates a lot of trauma," said Brenda Reynolds, who will be the inquiry's healing support worker.
"My role is to provide a process where we're providing emotional safety to individuals who are going to come and give their statements."
Reynolds said there will be support for people before hearings even start, during them and then again afterwards.
She also said there will be healing services workers hired in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish to support people.
"And I'll do the training to train them on what trauma looks like and how do you provide support in a really good way," Reynolds said, acknowledging that the inquiry hearings will be difficult for participants.
Qupee agrees that the hearings will be difficult, but she said it's an important process.
"When people come forward to talk about those experiences, it's hurtful, it's damaging, but we need to give the people the opportunity to heal as well," she said.
Qupee said she'd like to see Innu Nation create its own agency to take care of their children in the future.
"I think that for us, we've had enough. We've had enough children … being taken away from our communities, being put into the province and sometimes outside of the province," she said.
In the past, Qupee said, families didn't feel heard by the provincial department which handles child welfare and families did not have an opportunity to engage with the government.
"I think to move forward and to break the cycle, we need to do this, as hard as it's going to be," she said about the inquiry.
Meanwhile, she said they have some young social workers returning to the Innu communities to work and change is happening, even if it's gradual.