A change to the structure of policing in Natuashish has come as a surprise to officials in the community, who say there was not enough consultation between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Mushuau Innu First Nation.
The RCMP announced it would be switching to a fly-in, fly-out model in the community, meaning officers will now move in and out of the community in 15-day stints.
Two teams of officers working on three to five-year contracts will move back and forth between Natuashish and Deer Lake. Placing a team in Deer Lake as opposed to a Labrador community like Happy Valley-Goose Bay was seen as a cost saving measure, according to RCMP Insp. Keith MacKinnon.
MacKinnon, the officer in charge of the Labrador district, said several factors were in play in making the decision. However, the move was centred around officer wellness as some officers had been requesting early transfers out of the community.
He believes the time away from Natuashish will allow officers to recharge, which could lead to more consistency over time.
"We win by ensuring the officers that the officers that are there are recharged, and it's more consistent," MacKinnon said, "That sustainability bodes for better relations in the community and so on. So this is certainly a win-win.
"As I considered this possibility and how it would work for the community, [Chief John Nui] was very much in support. It goes back to that community engagement, this is a really important part to this."
While MacKinnon says proper consultation for the change was made with Mushuau Innu First Nation Chief John Nui, Nui doesn't remember it that way. He said the proposed changes came up as a brief aside in a meeting about another topic, and he doesn't believe a follow up was made.
"If there was any discussion on the rotation thing … I think there would have been a follow up with emails and more meetings. Not just one meeting," Nui said.
"We have a good communication with the people that are here in this community … I don't think the communication was there."
Nui said he believes the change will impact the community, as officers coming into the community will lack the same rapport officers in the community currently have with townspeople.
"It's going to be a disaster," he said.
"They're just going to come in, do their work, go back to their homes and off they go again. I think it's going to be hard to communicate with them and have a good relationship that way."
MacKinnon said that won't be the case, as officers will undergo cultural training and will be in the community every other two weeks to engage with Natuashish.
"They'll know in two weeks they're gonna to have those people back again, the very same people."
Innu people need to have a say: MHA
Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans said she was "shocked and taken aback" by the lack of consultation, saying she was unable to find many details about the change.
Evans said she has spoken with Justice Minister John Hogan about the issue, and hopes to be a part of a future meeting between government, the Innu Nation and the RCMP.
"There's been a failure of policing in Natuashish to address the needs of the Innu people," Evans said.
"The Innu people needs to have input, the Innu people have to have a say on what's working, what's not working, to be able to actually put forward suggestions that would improve policing in Natuashish."
With the goal of getting more consultation in mind, Evans said she hopes a change to the policing system can bring changes to help the people of Natuashish.
"If there's going to be changes to policing, we got to make sure that the policing actually improves the quality of life of the residents. That needs to be our main priority," she said.
"This actually could become a positive thing. We could do a lot to really improve the policing in Natuashish."