Thursday, January 28, 2016
Every time I see the smiling face of Marie Janvier, the young teaching assistance gunned down in La Loche, Saskatchewan, I feel a pang of sadness. All four of the deaths and the injuries to several more were senseless and brutal. The teen charged with these murders can never grow into any normal manhood. We have been told this mass shooting may be the worst event in the history of the community but in some respects is one event in the midst of systemic problems and violence experienced on many reserves. La Loche has one of the highest crime rates in the country.
There have been articles in a number of publications including Macleans magazine which identify the layer on layer of challenges and concede that easy fixes really don't fix anything.
Within days of these murders a report from a human rights tribunal was released, identifying that the federal government discriminates against First Nation children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere. Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society, along with the Assembly of First Nations, filed a complaint against Ottawa with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in February 2007. I wrote about Blackstock and how she was being spied on and harassed by the feds because of her activism. This report is a vindication and testament to her perseverance.
We should connect the dots between the findings of the tribunal and the culture of violence in isolated communities. The young man who pulled the trigger is responsible for his actions. Still, he grew up in a culture of limited opportunity, alienation, and violence.
Politicians showed up in La Loche after the tragedy and made commitments to change, but these declarations have a tendency to become empty promises.
We can hope and pray that substantive change will come under the current federal government. And we can ask how faith communities, including the United Church, can become partners in hope for aboriginal peoples across the country.