Residents of Sheshatshiu held a candlelight vigil Tuesday for Matthew Malleck, killed over the weekend in a hit-and-run.
Malleck's cousin Ruby Tshakapesh called him a quiet young man who liked to spend time with his extended family. She said she was shocked by his death.
"I couldn't believe this was happening in our own backyard," she told CBC's Labrador Morning on Wednesday. Tshakapesh said their families were always very close, and Malleck's mother was like her own.
"She was always there for us when we were younger, she raised good, loving children," she said. "This was a tragic incident."
Tshakapesh said she has had trouble sleeping since her cousin was killed, and worries about the safety of her own children.
"My kids are grown up and I worry about them too, thinking if they are safe on the road," she said. "I just think that the safety wasn't there for Matthew; he was a victim of a hit and run and the community is not safe at night for them to walk."
Unsolved hit and run in August
Malleck's death is only the most recent hit and run in the Innu communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish.
In August, Ryan Nuke, 26, was killed on the highway between Sheshatshiu and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Relatives of the father of three called Nuke an affable person who wouldn't argue with anyone.
No one has been charged in Nuke's death, although relatives and community members gathered outside RCMP headquarters demanding information and increased efforts by police.
Simeon Tshakapesh, former deputy grand chief of the Innu Nation, said there have been victims of hit-and-run incidents in his own family.
"My nephew's son was killed with a hit and run as well," he told Labrador Morning on Thursday. "That case has been a cold case file from the RCMP, and nothing was ever done and nobody ever came forward.
"My cousin also got a hit and run and he was sent to St. John's. Luckily he didn't lose his life."
Tshakapesh said something needs to be done to improve safety in the communities, which he said have been hit hard by drugs.
"Sometimes I don't feel safe too when I'm on the road, because of the amount of drugs that's been happening in both communities," he said. "There's a lot of cocaine, a lot of marijuana, a lot of drinking going on."
A former member of law enforcement himself, Tshakapesh urged community leaders to consider forming a tribal police force to increase security in the communities.
"I don't want to dictate what should transpire within public safety, but I urge them to look at forming a tribal police, or some kind of security in place for the sake of public safety," Tshakapesh said.
"Because it's getting to the point where people are getting killed by motor vehicles, and it needs to be addressed in both communities."
'Lives are lost and families are grieving'
Police are investigating Malleck's death. In the meantime, said his cousin, Tuesday's vigil was meant to honour him.
"He was a young man that had a future, when his life was tragically taken away by an unsafe driver," said Ruby Tshakapesh.
She said she hopes for a solution to improve safety on the roads in the community.
"The impaired drivers have to be looked at, because lives are lost and families are grieving. Matthew was a human being and he didn't deserve to lose his life."