La Loche looks to move forward
- Fraser Needham | February 14, 2016
Within a few short minutes, life in the northern Saskatchewan village of La Loche was changed forever last month.
On January 22, a 17-year-old boy fatally shot brothers Dayne, 17, and Drayden Fontaine, 13.
Moments later, he entered the grounds of the local school and began shooting again killing teacher Adam Wood, 35, and educational assistant Marie Janvier, 21.
Seven others were also seriously injured in the shooting, four of which still remain in hospital.
A seventeen-year-old male has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
He cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
In the ensuing weeks, the Dene community of about 3,500 has struggled to come to terms with the tragic incident, which is unprecedented in the province’s history.
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The healing will likely continue on forever in the northern village located about 500 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert.
The shootings have elicited an outpouring of support and sympathy from both across the province and country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Brad Wall have both visited La Loche in recent weeks.
Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic even dedicated his win at the Australian Open to the shooting victims.
However, the incident has also brought on unprecedented media attention to the community, much of it unwanted.
For more than two weeks, the village was inundated with national media reporters.
Multiple stories focused on the social problems La Loche faces – the high suicide rates, problems with drugs and alcohol, poverty and violence.
Other stories noted the overall lack of economic development for a community of this size and the fact that there is no sit down restaurant, hotel or local bank.
The people of La Loche remain in a state of mourning with the school slated to be closed until at least February 22.
“The community is hurting and the tragedy is still very painful, very difficult,” Georgina Jolibois, who is the local Member of Parliament for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, says. “Family and friends, young people, elders and other family are doing their best to heal and move on. So, it’s still a difficult time.”
Jolibois is also the former mayor of La Loche.
Leonard Montgrand, who is the executive director of the La Loche Friendship Centre, says it has been particularly difficult having the local school closed for such an extended period of time.
He says the La Loche Community School is not only a place of education, it is also the hub for a number of recreational sports activities for adults and youth which includes the only weight lifting room and gym in the village.
Montgrand says in the meantime the friendship centre is offering day and evening programming for young people to help fill the gap but the reopening of the school will go a long way in returning the community to some form of normalcy.
“The biggest thing I feel personally is our school has to get going somehow to get a sort of routine and normalcy back to the community,” he says. “That’s something that the teachers, the community and the Northern Lights School Division, along with the students, are going to have to do some groundwork and figure out a strategy to get everybody back in the school system.”
Both Jolibois and Montgrand say the outpouring of support in this time of crisis has been much appreciated.
This includes provincial funding for four victim services workers.
However, they also say the tendency of some media to sensationalize the tragedy and focus only on the community’s negatives has been extremely hurtful.
Montgrand points out there are many positive things currently going on in La Loche including the fact the community won the National Association of Friendship Centres Award of Excellence for 2015 and plans are underway to build a new friendship centre.
“A lot of the reporters were good, they were respectful and a lot did good pieces,” he says. “That being said, we’ve had some reporters that I just don’t know where they are coming from or what they were thinking. They already had their minds made up when they got into the community. They just looked around, saw the community for what it was and we never had a chance. They never really tried to make a connection with the people.”
Can any long term good come out of the tragedy?
Montgrand say he is hopeful that by shining a light on some of the social and economic problems La Loche currently has, there is now a window of opportunity to actually do something about them.
He says the people of La Loche desire all of the amenities communities of a similar size have in Saskatchewan but the community just needs a little provincial and federal help in attaining these services.
Jolibois says she hopes the tragedy makes people see just how badly health services, particularly in the area of mental health, are lacking in the community.
“The health centre requires major changes – increased existing services in mental health and addictions, ensuring families have access to traditional healing and therapies, better emergency care and improved access to physicians in the clinic site.”