Former Hobbema gang member hopes to make difference
A former gang member told a community meeting in Hobbema, Alta., Wednesday that he hopes to help stem violence in the community.
Police, politicians, parents and elders from the Samson First Nation, a community of 12,000 about 50 kilometres south of Edmonton, gathered to discuss ways to deal with the community's gang problem.
Jonathan Blaine-Nepoose told the meeting that he came to the symposium to offer suggestions and hopefully set an example for others.
"If I could come here, then maybe all my brothers, all my cousins and all my friends and relatives that are still gang members, … then hey, they can, too," said the former member of the gang Redd Alert.
"I used to think the best way to escape the violence and the gang activity that's going on out here is to move away," said the 27-year-old father of three.
Now, he said, "I would like to help my community with that, I would like to give advice."
The meeting, and Blaine-Nepoose's departure from gang life, were both triggered by the April shooting of toddler Asia Saddleback. The 23-month-old, who is expected to make a full recovery, was hit by a stray bullet while eating dinner with her family.
The RCMP said the violence is rooted in rival gangs battling for control of the drug trade in the community, primarily in crack cocaine, leading to a cycle of attacks and retaliation.
One expert at Wednesday's meeting said Hobbema has the highest concentration of gang members per capita in the country, with 13 gangs.
Blaine-Nepoose said that his decision to leave gang life was risky and his life is in danger for working against crimes that he had previously helped fuel.
"There is no glory in anything that has to do with any type of violence, any type of gang activity that wrecks the community," he said, adding that it would take time to spread that message and make a difference.