La Loche shooting remembered at Van Tech ceremony

Students at Vancouver Technical Secondary School observed a moment of silence on Monday to remember the victims of the La Loche shootings in Saskatchewan.

Advocates say the shooting is a reminder aboriginal youth in rural areas across B.C. need more help

The students at Van Tech observed a moment of silence on Monday for the victims of the La Loche shooting. (CBC)

The La Loche shootings in Saskatchewan have prompted First Nations leaders in B.C. to renew calls for more services for aboriginal youth in remote communities. 

The victims of the shootings were honoured by students at Vancouver Technical Secondary School on Monday, as they observed a moment of silence.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the La Loche and Clearwater River Dene Nation communities, families and victims," said Robin Roberts, an aboriginal education enhancement worker at the school.

The moment of remembrance took place during the school's Indigenous Awareness Week. The week had been planned for months, but the shootings on Friday gave it a timely significance. 

The celebration at Van Tech is designed to focus on achievements and successes. 

"The hardships that happened in Saskatchewan, that's part of the history as well, but at the same time we're also still a very strong people," said Roberts. 

Indigenous Awareness Week at Van Tech began with performances from students. (CBC)

Support for aboriginal students in Vancouver

Don Fiddler, principal for aboriginal education, said it's important to remember that the tragic events in La Loche don't define First Nations people.

"The nature of what happened in Saskatchewan is an aberrant event. It's not representative of what happens in aboriginal culture."

Fiddler said the Vancouver school district's approximately 2,100 aboriginal students — 83 of them at Van Tech — are well-served by staff.

"We have 40 staff that work within our district," said Fiddler. "We have a cultural coordinator, we have a knowledge keeper as well as a consultant, and all of these people work together in the schools."

'Best intentions always go astray'

But First Nations leaders say culturally-appropriate programs and services don't exist for many isolated, rural community youth. 

"The governments have tried to decide for us what is best, and, you know, the best intentions always go astray. They don't meet our people's needs," said Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

Chairman of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance Bob Chamberlin says more needs to be done to protect populations across the province. (CBC)

"We need to invest in an ongoing daily intake for treatment centres for First Nations and for Canadians in general, so when someone has that motivation to heal, to change and recover from the traumas, that the services are there," added Chamberlin.

Chamberlin said B.C. isn't immune to tragic events in remote aboriginal communities — last fall, a small community near Lillooet was reeling after a young man attacked almost a dozen people with a hammer in the Bridge River band office.

A suspect died at the scene and 11 men and women were injured.

With files from Belle Puri