Sask. First Nation issues state of emergency due to increased drug and gang activity

·5 min read
The Francois (Grosventre) Benjamin Healing and Health Centre in the Buffalo River Dene Nation where people have been going when hurt in gang retaliations. (Submitted by Norma Catarat - image credit)
The Francois (Grosventre) Benjamin Healing and Health Centre in the Buffalo River Dene Nation where people have been going when hurt in gang retaliations. (Submitted by Norma Catarat - image credit)

Buffalo River Dene Nation BRDN has issued a state of emergency due to increased gang violence and drug activity in the community.

Norma Catarat, the Chief of BRDN, said the violence in the community, which has 1200 people living on-reserve, has been going on for a long time. In February she became Chief of the First Nation located 459 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert, and said that recently, the activity has gotten more violent and she fears for her community's safety.

"We've had some house units that have been burnt, [vandalized], invasions and [people] stopping and shooting," she said. "It's getting very scary for our community members."

Catarat said her community members are scared to come forward to the RCMP with statements because of possible retaliation from gangs.

"The other night we actually had four of our community members hurt with knife gashes and gunshots and physical [assault]," she said.

The FSIN released a statement Thursday in association with the First Nation and asked for support from the federal and provincial governments.

"Our First Nations communities are hurting and they need support," said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a statement. "There is only so much BRDN Council can do by themselves."

"We call on the province of Saskatchewan's Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety to provide immediate [relief] through additional funding for the RCMP to conduct proactive enforcement immediately. Our communities are in crisis and they will not go through this alone."

In a statement to CBC, the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said it is aware of the concerns within the community and has discussed the issue with local RCMP.

"We are confident that the RCMP has the situation under control," the statement said. "We will continue to support them in addressing public safety concerns raised by the community."

Task force being created, Chief says more support needed

Catarat said a task force is currently being created as she has been in contact with the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency and organizations like the Saskatoon Tribal Council. However, she says, the community needs more help.

"Our community members are scared, our elders are scared," she said. "[Elders] have had tires slashed. They have nothing to do with what's going on, besides being related to some member of the gangs."

She called upon the federal and provincial governments to provide more support and resources for the local RCMP units.

"I am so grateful to have the [RCMP] members that are there. They are overworked and some of them are going 24 hours a day trying to be proactive and [preventative] and they're tired," she said. "They need to rest and take time."

She said it would help if the Dillion RCMP station, which is located on the First Nation, had a holding cell. The nearest holding cell is in Buffalo Narrows which is on the opposite side of Peter Pond Lake.

Google Maps
Google Maps

"So for the [RCMP] to pick up someone for an incident, it takes them two hours travel time to make a round trip, that doesn't include the processing time once they get there," Catarat said.

"So they're away from the community between three to four hours when they have to go and take someone into the cells in Buffalo Narrows."

She said when the officers are taking someone into holding, the gang members in the community know when the RCMP are away.

"Those are times when they start to move around and like they're jumping from house to house to house and so we can't nail them down in one place."

How violence is affecting community

Catarat said when the incident happened a few days ago, the victims had to go to the local health clinic where there are no doctors on site, just on-call nurses.

"Our nurses are scared and they've had blinds closed and lights off and they're hunching down to the floor to walk from one space to another where the windows are open," she said. "They were hiding with their patients because the patients were scared that [the gang members] were coming back to finish them off."

She said these attacks and violence have caused many sleepless nights in the community. Catarat said the kids in the community are in danger as well, with some kids even selling drugs for the gang members.

"We have kids that are in the school that are selling for these gang members and dealers," she said. "Just imagine if there was a piece of crystal meth to drop out of somebody's pocket. They're shiny. They look like candy. A seven year old, five year old [could] walk by and pick it up and put it in their mouth."

Because of all of this, Catarat wants her community members to know that she is doing everything in her power to ensure their safety.

"I don't want to lose any community members, I pray that I don't lose any community members due to what's going on, whether they're involved or not, no one deserves to lose a life over something that," she said. "If we can prevent it, let's prevent it and work together as a team."

Increase in overdoses since pandemic

Catarat said the gang violence is directly related to drugs in the community. She said there has also been an increase in overdoses in BRDN.

"We even had the same individual overdose twice in one week and that's scary," she said. "Our community has suffered a lot [with] COVID, the mental issues are very strong and you can tell, with [gang activity] going on, there's a lot of people that are reliant on certain things to keep them coping."

"And as [for] suicide attempts, our numbers are very high."

Catarat said she has put in a proposal with the government for a mental health unit to be established on BRDN.

"We need 24-hour medical mental health workers in our community for all ages," she said. "We have two that work and they do seven day shifts and their caseload is so high. They're the ones that are called on suicide and overdose attempts. They are the one's that are consoling the families."

"It's very frustrating for us because our resources are still limited."

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