Hobbema band leaders frustrated by gang violence

Band leaders in Hobbema, Alta., say they are grappling with how to stop gang violence plaguing the reserve of 15,000 residents southeast of Edmonton after the latest killing.
Two Samson reserve residents join an impromptu march on Tuesday. The small protest called for an end to gang violence on the reserve. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Band leaders in Hobbema, Alta., say they are grappling with how to stop gang violence plaguing the community of 15,000 residents southeast of Edmonton after the latest killing.

"We've done a lot of good, successful things in terms of bringing in gang expertise into our community, working closely with the schools, and I thought we had a pretty good handle on it," said community leader Roy Louis. "Obviously it really hasn't worked."

Police met with the chief and band councillors Tuesday to talk about the violence on the Samson reserve, about 90 kilometres from Edmonton.

Flags fly at half-mast outside band offices at Hobbema, Alta., after the latest killing on the violence-plagued reserve southeast of Edmonton. (CBC)

One idea under discussion is a bylaw where residents sign a contract and if they break the rules of the community, they are told to leave, said Coun. Elroy Strawberry-Rain.

"That's that. No more ifs, buts," he said. "If you want to live this style you have to do it somewhere else. I can't have you here, regardless of who you are."

Victim was Ethan Yellowbird's aunt

Recent homicides, shootings in Hobbema

  • Ethan Yellowbird killed in drive-by shooting July 11, 2011.
  • Joseph Daniel Moonias, 28, fatally stabbed Dec. 10, 2010. Teen charged.
  • Preston Thom, 15, shot on the street on Christmas Eve 2010 as he and his little brother stood outside their home.
  • 22-year-old woman wounded after shots were fired at her home April 30, 2010.
  • Delena Lefthand, 20, killed when bullet fired through wall of a home Aug. 16, 2008.
  • The body of Dale Dechamps, 21, was found in a back alley on the Samson townsite Aug. 2, 2008.
  • Gun amnesty introduced Aug 1, 2008.
  • Billy Buffalo, 16, killed; man wounded in shootout July 27, 2008.
  • Asia Saddleback survived being shot in stomach in drive-by shooting in April 2008.

An autopsy is scheduled Tuesday for the latest shooting victim, a 23-year-old woman killed outside a house party in the Samson Cree townsite Monday.

The woman, identified as Chelsea Yellowbird, was shot in the neck at 3 a.m. in the backyard of a house known for gang activity.  

Shots were fired a short time later at a second house a few blocks away, but police don't know if the two shootings are linked.

The Samson reserve has seen dozens of drive-by shootings on the reserve this year, said Louis.

"How can anyone live in safety when we have drive-by shootings?" he asked. "It's mind-boggling what's happening right now."

Police had taken some people into custody for questioning Monday over the latest shootings but no charges have been laid.

Monday's killing happened next-door to the house where five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird was killed in a drive-by shooting in July.

Ethan was the son of Chelsea Yellowbird's sister. He was shot in the head while he slept.

That shooting prompted calls by community leaders for residents to break the code of silence surrounding gang activity on the reserve.

A small group of residents held an impromptu march through the community Tuesday to call for an end to gang violence.

"We need some peace in the reserve," said Joe Northwest. "We need the people to feel more secure. This violence is getting out of hand."

But few joined the protest. Residents say there is a price for speaking out.

"Just scared," said Theresa Boysis. "Because their house is going to be damaged."

Boysis said she met Chelsea Yellowbird for the first time at the memorial for the young woman's nephew in July.

"That's what is sad about it," she said. "Two months later and she's gone now. Twenty-three years old. Just starting to live."