The former chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation says programs are vital for youth in northern Saskatchewan.

Located just a few kilometres away from La Loche, the first nation has a long history of supporting youth programs, including the high school wrestling team, as well as lengthy canoe trips throughout the north.

"If a father and son aren't talking at home, and I stick them in a canoe for a week, they're going to say something," he said. "It's a positive thing, as far as I'm concerned."

The issue of northern youth has become top of mind ever since Friday's school shooting. A 17-year-old male is facing four charges of first-degree murder and seven charges of attempted murder after a number of people were killed and wounded at the La Loche Community School and a local home.

While Cheecham said the factors behind the shooting are very complex, he said it's essential that young people have something productive to focus on.

Cheecham said he's particularly proud of Clearwater River's high school wrestling team, the Kodiaks. The team has produced provincial champions in the past, and two of the First Nation's students even wrestled in Japan.

"Attendance records and the performance records and behaviour was all connected to being on the team," said Cheecham. "The reward is that you were not only competing with your fellow students, but you had paid trips."

Cheecham said it was important for him to get directly involved in the lives of children on his reserve.

"I think it's very important to be connected to the children and to acknowledge them, and to know that they are important," he said. "When a community leader greets a child, it goes the extra mile. That I take the time to do that, and I take the time to acknowledge that person."