Journey Pastitshi's family laid her to rest in Natuashish on Thursday. She was just 17 years old, and her family says she died of alcohol poisoning — despite a ban on alcohol in the Labrador community.
John Nui, Natuashish band council chief — and Journey's uncle — described her as a polite girl with an army of friends from Nain to Hopedale, on track to complete her high school credits in December and graduate in June.
"She was a very outgoing person," he told CBC. "She has a beautiful smile, and when you see her smile it takes the breath out of your mouth. She was that kind of person … It's very sad, the way things turned out."
By "the way things turned out," Nui means that he believes his niece died of alcohol poisoning.
"It's very hard for me as uncle to hear that a young life from our family [has been] taken away, a very young life," he said.
Council wants ban enforced
The sadness he felt over his niece's death is coupled with anger and frustration at the way, he says, liquor flows freely into Natuashish despite a ban on alcohol in the community. He said he regularly hears stories of bootlegging, drinking and drug use.
"It's very frustrating as a chief, for me to hear those stories when you try to make it better, help people that are suffering from this addiction," he told CBC's Labrador Morning.
He said he wants residents to tell the police who's selling liquor and drugs in the community, rather than just him reporting it. That way, he said police have a direct witness to it, instead of second-hand information.
But the council is also looking at boosting enforcement to an existing bylaw to curb alcohol in the community.
"That's the option we're looking at as well, to get some people trained, so if the RCMP can't do it from their standpoint, we'll look at the band to train our people and start enforcing the bylaw," said Nui.
He's especially concerned about the children of the community, who sometimes are reluctant to come forward to ask for help — for themselves or their parents — for fear of landing their parents in trouble, but he said for some it might be the only way to get them to stop.
"If the parents stop their negative activities, their kids will follow them as well," he said.