Vigil honours Tama Bennett, as community voices concerns about handling of her death

A sombre gathering of about 75 people took place in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Tuesday night, as community members called for a deeper look into the death of Tama Bennett.

Bennett, a 23-year-old Inuk woman from Nain, was found dead in a tent in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Nov. 15.

About 15 hours after her body was discovered, RCMP said her death was not suspicious in nature.

But the speed of that declaration has some people questioning the RCMP's handling of Bennett's death, with the Nunatsiavut government voicing concerns that police "made assumptions" in the case.

Those concerns are echoed by people in the community. 

"It doesn't seem like there's a strong investigation going on. It makes me feel like there is no justice here, and it's not treated fairly," said Deseray Rich, who attended the vigil.

"It was treated as [not] suspicious and I just think that's pretty wrong because there was a body found in the woods, which was very suspicious."

Rumours have circulated in the community suggesting something more nefarious was at play, with people using #JusticeforTama on social media to call for a more serious investigation.

Police maintained again on Tuesday that Bennett's death is being investigated thoroughly, but no foul play is suspected.

"While police are aware of concerns regarding the cause of her death circulating on social media, the RCMP will continue, as a matter of practice and investigative protocol, to conduct a detailed and thorough investigation giving consideration to all available evidence," read the RCMP statement.

Tama Bennett/Facebook

Nunatsiavut calls for independent investigation

While the RCMP said its investigation, alongside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the forensic identification section, will continue to seek answers into Bennett's death, the autonomous Inuit government in Labrador is calling for an independent police investigation into Bennett's death.

Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe said he believes police jumped to conclusions when they deemed Bennett's death not suspicious, and alleges police did not interview key witnesses before issuing its initial statement.

Alyson Samson/CBC

"We have reason to believe the RCMP made assumptions as to the cause of death before carrying out a thorough investigation," Lampe wrote in a press release on Tuesday.

He even went so far as to question whether the RCMP "learned anything from the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls," Lampe wrote in his statement.

"Would this matter have been handled differently if the victim wasn't a homeless or transient Indigenous woman living in a tent?"

Nunatsiavut said in its statement that Bennett was a frequent client at the Housing Hub, an emergency shelter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, about 400 kilometres from her hometown of Nain, which is operated by the Nunatsiavut government.

Jacob Barker/CBC

For Lampe, it's more than just Nunatsiavut business — it's personal.

His daughter, Kimberly Jararuse, was killed by her boyfriend in 2010.

"I know what it's like to lose a daughter," Lampe told CBC's On The Go. "It's something that's haunted my family for a very long time and I am sure that it is haunting the Bennett family right now."

Police, meanwhile, are asking anyone with information they believe is pertinent to the investigation to contact the Happy Valley-Goose Bay RCMP.

An update will be provided once the investigation concludes, police said.

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