Inmates at correctional centre celebrate Aboriginal Day

Derek Montague
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A dozen assembled bicycles presented for Hopedale community

National Aboriginal Day is an important annual event all across Labrador.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Don Rogers (from left), Ikiakik Sillett, Chris Cluney and LCC trade shop supervisor Dwayne Brown, pose with two of the bicycles that were assembled inside the prison. In total, 12 assembled bikes will be donated to the community of Hopedale.

It gives people in the Big Land a chance to reflect on the importance of their Innu, Inuit and Métis heritage.

Nearly every community in Labrador did something to celebrate Aboriginal Day. Even the prison staff and inmates at the Labrador Correctional Centre (LCC), located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, had a full day of activities to mark the occasion.

The LCC has been celebrating Aboriginal Day for the last seven years. This year, on June 19, they had an impressive schedule of events lined up, despite the downpour of rain.

Sherrie Wiseman, adult educator at the LCC, believes it’s important for the prison to recognize Aboriginal Day each year, since the majority of inmates have an Aboriginal background.

“The Labrador Correctional Centre has mostly Aboriginal offenders. So we wanted to recognize Aboriginal Day because they don’t get a whole lot of extra things to do here,” said Wiseman. “So, we thought Aboriginal Day would be an excellent opportunity for them to recognize their culture and Aboriginal ways.”

In the morning, musicians from the community visited the prison to sing and perform for the inmates and staff, which was huge hit at the LCC.

They also had a moment of silence to honour the late Winston White, a beloved figure all across Labrador, including at the LCC.

“Winston was always a big supporter of the Aboriginal population in justice … so we certainly missed him this year,” said Wiseman.

Each year, inmates, staff, and Aboriginal Day guests, are treated to a delicious meal of traditional Labrador food. This year’s menu included salmon, char, partridge, rabbit, smelts, trout and moose meat.

“I think (Aboriginal Day) makes them proud to be able to recognize their heritage and their culture, especially the food, they don’t always get Aboriginal food. And today, I noticed a lot of the guys went back for thirds.”

National Aboriginal Day is also a chance to showcase valuable skills the inmates learn and develop while they’re locked up.

Inmate Scott Goudie, from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is well known for his impressive stone carvings. The artist is able to continue with his passion at the LCC, because the prison provides him and others with tools and materials.

Goudie even made a bunch of small carvings to give to the people who performed at the prison’s Aboriginal Day celebrations.

“I have an Aboriginal and a white background,” said Goudie. “I don’t like to coin myself as a purely Aboriginal artist, but I do love the themes. I like (carving) men in kayaks, and hunters …”

Like the other inmates, Goudie was grateful for the chance to celebrate Aboriginal Day with everyone. For him, it was a good break the usual routine at the LCC.

“Here we are, locked up, and there’s a lot of negativity and all of a sudden, you’re out of your cell all day or off the ranges and surrounded by people you’re not used to seeing,” said Goudie.

“I like the music and I like seeing people come in from the community; it gives us a bit of a break.”

After everyone at the LCC had their feed of traditional Labrador food, two inmates were recognized for their hard work with the prison’s bicycle program.

For more than a month, Chris Cluney and Ikiakik Sillett, along with LCC trade shop supervisor Dwayne Brown, used old donated bike parts to assemble 12 new bicycles.

Each year, the bikes assembled at the LCC go to a community in Labrador. This year, they will be flown to Hopedale.

“It keeps us busy, it’s a good way to get off the units and give back to the community while we’re in here,” said Cluney.

“I’ve always been pretty good mechanically.”

The hard work was especially rewarding for Sillett, since the bikes will be going to his hometown.

“I just heard that it was going to Hopedale and I wanted to do something for Hopedale,” said Sillett.

“I enjoyed it. It was good work. It passed a lot of time away.”

The RCMP will transport the bikes to the small coastal town at a later date. During the bike presentation at the LCC, RCMP Staff Sgt. Don Rogers of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay detachment was on hand to thank those who assembled them at the trade shop.

“I want to recognize the program here, and especially the work of the guys who worked on the bikes,” said Rogers. “It’s great to see them give back to the community, learning a new skill. It’s awesome and we’re really proud to support them.”

Organizations: Labrador Correctional Centre, RCMP

Geographic location: Labrador, Hopedale, Happy Valley Goose Bay

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