Amid uptick in violence, Buffalo River declares state of emergency

·2 min read

Dallas Billette, a band councillor for the Buffalo River Dene Nation (BRDN) in northwest Saskatchewan, says his community used to be a pretty peaceful place, but has seen increasingly severe violence, drug use and gang activity.

The First Nation is home to around 800 people living in the village of Dillon, plus 700 people living elsewhere.

“The increase in criminal activity is not a very good thing to experience here at home,” Billette said.

Elders' car tires have been slashed, and one was physically assaulted; there was also a drive-by shooting at somebody’s home, he said. Although BRDN is supposed to be a dry reserve with zero tolerance for alcohol or drugs, people have been bringing in meth and crack cocaine, he added.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we haven't had a loss of life due to these circumstances. We want to keep it that way.”

This week, the community declared a state of emergency. Chief Norma Catarat said she hopes this will help the First Nation get more resources to keep people safe.

“The recent violence has created a sense of fear in our community,” Catarat said. “This is why (we) have called a State of Emergency. Our community needs support. We need help to ensure every single band member feels safe in their home.”

Some of that support might include more emergency services, closer to the community.

The RCMP detachment closest to Dillon is located in Buffalo Narrows, nearly an hour away by car. So if officers are called away, or another emergency happens while they're transporting someone from the community to a holding cell in Buffalo Narrows, it can be a long time before police can respond.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) has called on the province’s Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety to provide additional funds for the RCMP to conduct “proactive enforcement” in Dillon.

Billette said a strong response to violence, drugs and vandalism is essential to setting a good example for youth in the community.

“Over the years, we’ve always had a pretty tight-knit community when it comes to the safety of each other,” he said. “Lately, with this gang activity influencing the younger generation, (I worry that) the kids are sponges.

“If they see a lot of illegal stuff and people not doing anything about it, they’ll think it’s okay in the future.”

Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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