Saskatchewan. First Nation declares state of emergency due to increased drug and gang activity
Buffalo River Dene Nation BRDN has issued a state of emergency due to increased gang violence and drug activity in the community.
BRDN leader Norma Catarat said the violence in the community, which has 1,200 people living on the reserve, has been going on for a long time. In February, she became chief of the First Nation located 459 kilometers northwest of Prince Albert and said that recently activity has become more violent and that she fears for the safety of her community.
“We had house units that were burnt down, [vandalized]invasions and [people] stop and shoot,” she said. “It gets very scary for our community members.”
Catarat said members of his community were afraid to make statements to the RCMP because of possible gang retaliation.
“The other night we actually had four members of our community injured with stab wounds and gunshot wounds and physical [assault],” she says.
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,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a statement. “There are so many things the BRDN Council can do on its own.”
“We are calling on the Saskatchewan Ministry of Corrections, Police and Public Safety to immediately provide [relief] with additional funding for the RCMP to immediately engage in proactive law enforcement. Our communities are in crisis and they will not get through this alone.”
In a statement to CBC, the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said it was aware of community concerns and had discussed the matter with local RCMP.
“We are confident that the RCMP has the situation under control,” the statement said. “We will continue to support them to address public safety concerns raised by the community.”
Working group being created, chief says more support needed
Catarat said a task force is 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] had flat tires. They have nothing to do with what’s going on, besides being linked to a member of the gangs.”
She called on the federal and provincial governments to provide more support and resources to local RCMP units.
“I’m so grateful to have the [RCMP] members who are there. They are overwhelmed and some of them are working around the clock trying to be proactive and [preventative] and they’re tired,” she said. “They need to rest and take some time off.”
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, across Lake Peter Pond.
“So for the [RCMP] to pick someone up for an incident, it takes them two hours to go round trip, that doesn’t include processing time once there,” Catarat said.
“So they are away from the community for between three and four hours when they have to go and take someone to the cells in Buffalo Narrows.”
She said when officers take someone into custody, gang members in the community know when the RCMP is away.
“These are times when they start moving around and like they’re jumping from house to house to house and so we can’t pin them down in one place.”
How violence affects the community
Catarat said that 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 nurses on call.
“Our nurses are scared and the blinds are closed and the lights are off and they bend over the floor to walk from one space to another where the windows are open,” she said. “They hid with their patients because the patients were afraid that [the gang members] came back to finish them.”
She said these attacks and violence had caused many sleepless nights in the community. Catarat said children in the community are also at risk, with some children even selling drugs to gang members.
“We have kids who are in school selling for these gang members and dealers,” she said. “Just imagine if there was a piece of crystal meth to fall out of someone’s pocket. They’re shiny. They look like candy. Seven-year-old, five-year-old [could] come by and pick it up and put it in their mouth.”
Because of all of this, Catarat wants members of her community to know that she is doing everything in her power to keep them safe.
“I don’t want to lose any member of the community, I pray that I don’t lose any member of the community because of what is happening, whether they are involved or not, no one deserves to lose a life for something that”, she said. “If we can prevent it, let’s prevent it and work together as a team.”
Increase in overdoses since the pandemic
Catarat said gang violence is directly linked 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 it’s scary,” she said. “Our community has suffered a lot [with] COVID, mental issues are very strong and you can tell, with [gang activity] going on, there are a lot of people who depend on certain things to keep coping. »
“And like [for] suicide attempts, our numbers are very high.”
Catarat said she had presented a proposal to the government for the creation of a mental health unit on BRDN.
“We need 24-hour medical mental health workers in our community for all ages,” she said. “We have two working and they’re doing seven-day shifts and their workload is so high. They’re the ones called in for attempted suicides and overdoses. They’re the ones consoling the families.”
“It’s very frustrating for us because our resources are still limited.”