'Help us': Drug, gang deaths prompt Sask. First Nation to declare state of emergency

A string of drug and gang-related violence has prompted leaders of Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN) to declare a state of emergency.

The community has experienced three deaths apparently connected to drug and gang activity in the last two months and there have been several high-speed chases and violent crimes.

Officials at a news conference Friday said more needs to be done to address addictions, housing and other issues. But in the short term, the community needs more police to stop the violence.

"Right now, we are trying to deal with the immediate situation, how we can curb the fear among this nation," OLCN Okimaw (Chief) Henry Lewis said in a news conference Friday.

The community of 4,000 people, which straddles the Saskatchewan-Alberta border just north of Lloydminster, already has 13 RCMP along with band security staff, but they're "maxed out," Lewis said.

Lewis said they need more police, especially ones with gang and drug expertise.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) vice-chief Edward Dutch Lerat agreed safety must come first..

"Every citizen of the nation deserves to greet each day knowing that their children, their families and their relatives are safe from illegal drug activity and violent crimes," Lerat said, pledging the FSIN's support.

OLCN leaders say that in the space of a few hours on Tuesday, Jan. 21, RCMP were involved in a high-speed chase, a missing man's body was discovered and a stolen vehicle ran into the side of the OLCN Arena.

RCMP are investigating the sudden death that happened in the community on Tuesday.

CBC News

The band held an emergency meeting and says it wants the government to help it create a gang strategy and increase police resources.

"The RCMP are working hard and trying their best but they need more help," said OLCN Okimaw (Chief) Henry Lewis in a release earlier Friday. "Their resources are stretched too thin and our community needs the support of both levels of government before it gets worse." 


Lewis said they need more help to combat the gang activity in the community.

"This problem has been steadily increasing over the last year and it is now to the point that we are having three very serious and scary incidences happening in one day," he said.

"Everyone is stretched to their limits. We need the government to come to our tables and help us create a gang strategy and find solutions that will work for our nation. We need to increase policing resources, bring in external gang units or whatever is necessary to help our community members feel safe."

Government response

The government of Saskatchewan said it had discussions with the RCMP about the state of emergency declared in Onion Lake. 

"The RCMP have advised that the Crime Reduction Team has been deployed to the area to help address immediate public safety concerns," a statement from the province said. 

"As with any resident of Saskatchewan, Onion Lake Cree Nation residents have access to all provincially-funded services to address substance misuse, including detox, outpatient, inpatient and harm reduction services."

Onion Lake RCMP and the police force's senior management team in that detachment have been in contact with the band and are assessing their response to the situation according to a statement sent to CBC News. 

Indigenous Services Canada said the department was made aware of the situation on Thursday. 

"ISC's Regional Executive Officer of Saskatchewan reached out to OLCN's leadership to identify immediate needs of the community and to confirm that additional mental health counselling and prevention-based supports are available under Non-Insured Health Benefits and Jordan's Principle," the department said in an emailed statement.