Recovery from trauma still a struggle in La Loche
- Chelsea Laskowski | March 07, 2018
La Loche is constantly retraumatized by the events of Jan. 22, 2016. The two-year anniversary of the north-west Saskatchewan rampage shooting just passed recently, and a judge recently ruled the shooter be sentenced as an adult.
The shooter was 17 at the time of his offences and entered guilty pleas for killing four and injuring seven in the shooting that took place within a home and in the Dene Building high school.
In late January as the RCMP prepared for the sentencing hearing, Staff Sgt. Greg Heuer told community members his job was to make sure the proceedings are safe for everybody regardless of the venue. He said in trying to help people heal, he is liaising to have supports available for community members.
“It is going to be tough. It's going to be hard for all of us,” he said in anticipation of the sentencing.
Still today, families struggle with voicing their emotions around the shooting. On Jan. 22, hundreds in La Loche gathered at the community hall for gospel music, food, and to spend time together. Most of those in attendance who took the mic were somewhat distanced from the trauma of the shooting. Charles Rabbitskin works at a treatment centre for addictions on Clearwater but has lived in the community for less than a year. He played a Cree drum song and spoke to the crowd.
“When I walked in I felt the pain of everybody here because we can't help but to think about what had happened two years ago,” he said. He said burying emotions means healing “takes a lot longer when you suffer like that.”
The memories of the shooting are still fresh and are compounded by continual, preventable deaths of young people in the community.
“We tend to not want to reflect on that a lot of times because we're constantly dealing with tragic events in our lives on a regular basis in this community,” Mayor Robert St. Pierre said in an interview.
Rabbitskin, St. Pierre, and others in the community are aware of what happens when healthy coping mechanisms fail.
“People tend to close themselves off and a lot of times if there's an increase in drug and alcohol abuse, is that how they're compensating? They're drowning their sorrows, they're self-medicating. Is that how they're dealing with it?” St. Pierre asked.
Within La Loche, counselling services are available but people have had ongoing issues with having to repeat their stories to new counsellors and not having supports present right when they’re in need.
“I know it's a lot of work and I can understand the dynamics of health and what have you and mental health. But we need mental health workers. We need people that can really help with those issues,” St. Pierre said.
A community wellness plan is now in place, and La Loche is in talks with BHP Billiton to offer community-led social supports. Residents are holding out hope that this will help the community move ahead from the shooting.
“Incremental change in the community is the only thing that will make a positive social climate,” said Friendship Centre Executive Director Leonard Montgrand.