Northern leaders call for immediate resources to address community safety

Indigenous leaders from Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC), Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S), and Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) held a news conference on Friday at the Sturgeon Lake First Nation office in Prince Albert calling for additional resources, funding and programming to address the escalating safety and wellness crises in central and northern Saskatchewan.

Northern leaders said they were deeply concerned about members are living in a constant state of fear due to high levels of violence, gang activity and drug trafficking in their communities.

MLTC leaders are frustrated that their ability to respond to these crises has not improved since the community of La Loche was devastated by a mass shooting in 2016 and they want to bring all levels of government and the RCMP at the table to try and find solutions.

Vice Chief Richard Derocher of the MLTC explained that the news conference was to bring awareness to what is happening in their communities and how they feel unsafe.

“I spent three days this last week with the nurses of MLTC,” he said. “We brought in all of our nine community nurses into our MLTC office and had a session with them for three days and one day was spent specifically on safety for them, for their clients, for our facilities in our communities. Some of the things that they brought up and what their wish list was, 24 hour security in our health centres, cameras in our health centres and outside our health centres as well as a six foot fence all around the yard of our community health centres.”

Derocher said this is just one example of workers who feel unsafe in the community. He also said they have elders sleeping with guns, bats, or other weapons close to their bed for safety reasons, and parents who are concerned about raising their children in unsafe communities.

“This is the reason we want to bring awareness to these safety issues, not the usual work safety issues but violence safety issues,” Derocher said. “Educators in the schools fear for their safety, fear for their children's safety in the schools.”

Derocher added that they were not at the press conference to lay blame, but to raise awareness that all is not right.

“Our elders are scared, our children are scared, like I said our nurses, our educators, our parents, so that's why we are here today to bring that awareness out to the governments, to bring them to the table so they can understand us,” he explained. “Come to the communities and see first hand. Spend a couple of days there, or a week there, so they can understand where our communities are at, our nine communities of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.”

Chief Norma Catarat of the Buffalo River Dene Nation called what was happening in their communities a pandemic.

“I had called a state of emergency in June and I had to recall it again,” she said. “The things that are coming into our community, things that are foreign to our people, have left a big impact on our people and now we need resources to help us to be able to help our people and our communities to be safe again.”

Catarat said she has gone to many places and everyone says that they are not responsible for the support they need.

“It's a hot potato game that has been going on for years and we are frustrated,” she said. “We are asking for the government to come with resources and services for our people. Your system hasn't worked for us since you put it in place. It's time you ask us what we think would work for us in our communities because that's the only way we are going to be successful in providing the resources and the services to our people.”

Chief Teddy Clark of Clearwater Dene Nation said that the RCMP at Clearwater is doing their best, but they are overworked. He said that they need to look at more on reserve and Aboriginal RCMP.

“It's time the government step up both federal, provincial,” he said. “Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Scott Moe we need to fix this. We are losing our people. We need more programs.”

President Glen McCallum of MN-S, along with Clark, encouraged both levels of governments to come to the table and look for solutions.

“At the end of the day governments have got to start thinking outside of the box to be able to respect and try as much as they can to understand in regards to what are the issues going on in our communities,” McCallum said.

McCallum added that people have to start listening, otherwise things will not change.

“We will sit here again a year from now, or a couple of years from now, and we will still be talking about the same thing if the governments don't come onside and sit with us to formalize a plan in regards to issues that are happening in our communities” alcoholism, drugs, gangs and the list goes on. Those are the things that we have to discuss,” McCallum said.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte echoed the sentiments of the other speakers.

“If we are going to make these changes in the challenges that we have in our communities we have to work together, we have to unite and I think that is what I see at this press conference is that we are uniting, we are willing to work and we ask the government and the RCMP to work with us to set up those meetings and make our communities a safer community for our families to raise their children,” Hardlotte said.

PAGC Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie explained that there are 40 communities between the two nations. He acknowledged and thanked the frontline workers, but added that the programs and services are underfunded.

“Our staff the frontline workers, the RCMP, the health officials are working overtime and a lot of them are burning out because those services don't meet the current needs within our communities,” Tsannie said.

He explained that they know the challenges faced by the RCMP with a shortage across the country.

“This past October the Grand Council signed the Letter of Intent with the federal government and the provincial government,” Tsannie said. “We have a good working relationship with our partners, with the province and the federal government in terms of looking at alternative policing solutions for the Prince Albert Grand Council. We have a good team that we developed, we built that relationship the last number of years but there are steps, there are processes, there is work that needs to be done and that will take some time.”

Tsannie added that the communities require further resources such as effective and timely support from the RCMP as well as funding for community safety infrastructure and the expansion of the Community Safety Officer pilot program. Timelier access to treatment centers is also needed.

michael.oleksyn@paherald.sk.ca

Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald