Residents of Fort Providence, N.W.T., are petitioning their mayor and chief to banish a number of people from the community in response to a wave of crime that has been going unabated.
Over the past four months, a number of local businesses, private homes and the community's only school have been repeatedly broken into. Many residents are pointing the finger at troublesome youth and now some people want those youth gone.
Last week the local Citizens on Patrol group launched a petition asking Mayor Sam Gargan and Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge to consider banishing seven individuals.
'We want change'
"It's a very small community, we see the same faces every patrol, and unfortunately we know that these people are the ones behind the criminal activity," says Linda Croft, who spearheaded the petition.
The petition garnered 26 signatures in less than six hours, which Croft says is pretty good for a community of about 700 people.
"I've had enough," she says. "It was our way of letting our leaders know that we want change, we need change, we need something done.'
Despite growing support, Croft ended up taking down the petition the same day she launched it.
"I felt I needed to remove it because Chief Bonnetrouge contacted my employer and ordered them to order me to cease and desist, or pay the consequences."
'People wanted to keep signing'
Croft and Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge have been divided over how to deal with the crime in Fort Providence.
Croft wants to see criminals turned over to the prison system, while Bonnetrouge has said he doesn't think jail is the answer. He's hoping to implement a more compassionate approach — like on-the-land healing — that's sensitive to the intergenerational trauma many of these young people may be struggling with.
Ultimately, however, taking the petition down didn't sit well with Croft, and on Feb. 12 — just two days later — she relaunched it.
"People in the community wanted to keep signing — even after I deleted the information — so to make everyone happy I rewrote it."
Croft removed the names of the people she's petitioning the leadership to banish, substituting phrases like "people responsible [who] are well known in our community."
Croft says even though "everyone knows" who's responsible, police aren't necessarily able to apprehend them.
"The police get called after the fact, or [people] don't even call the police and the police find out about a break-in the morning after. Some people are afraid to speak up, whether it's [for fear of] retribution from the thieves themselves or their families."
'Banishment is nothing new to aboriginal people'
Fort Providence mayor, Sam Gargan, is aware of the petition. He and Bonnetrouge both receive an email every time someone signs it.
"Banishment is nothing new to aboriginal people, but traditionally it was for young people to learn to survive out on the land," says Gargan. "So the intent was for good, not for punishment."
Gargan says roughly 15 years ago, Fort Providence did ban someone from the community.
"It was not a community member that was banished. It was a person in the community that was causing a bit of problem, so we told him not to come back."
Like Croft, Gargan says the people behind the crime are known to the community.
"We know who the [young people] are, by name. We know who the parents are."
Gargan is not decidedly against the petition's request, but says it's something that would need a lot of consideration, and major support.
"Most of the decisions made by First Nations are based on the collective. It's not something that can be done by one individual, it's something that we need to bring to our council."
Land programs to address crime
But that doesn't mean the community is about to banish any of its members.
"The hamlet will ultimately give the chief whatever support he needs" when it comes to dealing with the crime, says Gargan.
"I think the idea right now is that we need to take those kids and show and tell them how to live off the land."
Gargan's referring to an on-the-land healing program the band is trying to start to deal with troubled youth.
"There's no work, so becoming good hunters and trappers, it just will instill more pride in our young people," says Gargan.
According to Gargan, the hamlet is also considering installing security cameras and implementing a curfew. In December it ran its own snowmobile patrols, and it currently supports the local Citizens on Patrol group.
Gargan expects "to have some [more] plans that might be able to address crime" by the end of this month.