Hobbema elder calls for end to code of silence

Band members must break the silence around crime at Hobbema, Alta., says an elder with the Samson Cree First Nation, following the shooting death of five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird.

'No one wants to talk,' says elder. 'We’re still afraid of retaliation'

National Chief Shawn Atleo speaks at the 32nd Annual General Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations in Moncton, N.B. Tuesday. (David Smith/Canadian Press)

Band members must break the silence around crime at Hobbema, Alta., says an elder with the Samson Cree First Nation, following the shooting death of five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird.

"There is a kind of a code of silence in our community and that needs to be broken," said Roy Lewis.

The boy, a grandson of Samson Cree Chief Marvin Yellowbird, was asleep in his father's house when it was raked by gunfire about 3:30 a.m. MT Monday.

An autopsy Tuesday showed he died from a bullet wound to his head.

"There are issues that need to be addressed, we still have a handful of gang members within our community, and we know that, we know who they are," said Lewis.

"We still have unresolved homicides because no one wants to talk," he said. "We’re still afraid of retaliation."

Getting people on the reserve to talk is the biggest challenge in the investigation, said Sgt. Tim Taniguichi.

"When it comes to gang activity there’s always that mode where people don’t want to talk or fear talking with police," he said.

Police are asking the public for help and for those involved in the shooting to come forward.  No arrests have been made.

Shooting a stark reminder, says chief 

Ethan Yellowbird, 5, was killed by a bullet early Monday while he slept in a home in the Samson townsite at Hobbema, Alta. ((Facebook))

Early Tuesday, Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said Yellowbird's death is a stark statement on the realities all First Nations face.

"I want to begin by expressing our most sincere condolences on behalf of the entire assembly to the family of the young boy who was tragically killed in Hobbema," he said. "Our thoughts and our prayers are certainly with the family and the community."

Atleo, who said he feels personally connected to the Samson Cree First Nation, called the shooting a horrible tragedy and senseless violence.

"Particularly, as the chief communicated to us, they felt they were making some progress, some positive progress, in dealing with violence on reserve," he said.

The Samson Cree First Nation has been plagued by drug and gang violence, even as band leaders and police have struggled to make the reserve safer since the 2008 shooting of 23-month-old Asia Saddleback.

The violence, Atleo said, is not isolated to Hobbema, but plagues all reserves across Canada. 

He called on leaders gathered for the assembly to show courage and stand firm against violence.

"It's about accepting our collective responsibility," he said, "to make sure our children are safe; that the women in our communities are safe."

"Let's do our best to fight for our rights and the rights of the little boy in Samson," Atleo said.