Saskatchewan·CBC IN LA LOCHE

La Loche hopes for better future after deadly shootings, struggles with youth suicides

Residents of La Loche, Sask., say faith, family, friends and hope have helped them cope in the wake of last Friday's deadly shooting. But some are calling for more to be done to help the community deal with its ongoing youth suicide crisis.

Residents of northern Saskatchewan village say more resources are needed to help troubled young people

Andrew Lemaigre says resources are needed to deal with drugs and alcohol in his community. (Matt Kruchak/CBC)

Hope for a better La Loche has helped keep Perry Herman alive.

The 27-year-old resident of the village with Saskatchewan's highest suicide rate — three times the national average — admits he has thought about taking his own life. But faith, family, friends and hope have helped him survive.

"The thought of tomorrow's going to be a better day. La Loche is going to be a better place. People are going to start changing. In hopes of that, that keeps me going. I want to live to see that day," Herman said, standing off to the side of a prayer meeting in the northern Saskatchwan village's community hall on Sunday night.

Although the prayer meeting is held every two weeks, this one was different. Food was being served — soup, bread, coffee and dessert — to help the community because there were so many people from out of town in La Loche to be with their families during a time of great hardship and grief.

On Friday afternoon, teacher Adam Wood and Marie Janvier, a teacher's aide, were gunned down at La Loche Community School, where seven people were also injured. Brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, aged 17 and 13 respectively, were killed at a nearby residence.

A 17-year-old boy has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder. He made his first appearance in court on Monday.

Remote community

La Loche is a remote community of mostly Dene people. It is almost a six hour-drive north of Prince Albert, the city considered a gateway to the north. 

We're talking about a community that has two security guards at the liquor store, but no security at the schools. Something's wrong there.- Bobby Cameron, FSIN chief

Of the slightly more than 2,600 people who live in the community, 220 who are 15 and older have a high school diploma,  according to the 2011 National Household Survey done by Statistics Canada. The labour force participation rate was estimated at 26.6 per cent, meaning a quarter of people who are of working age were actively seeking work or employed. The unemployment rate was estimated at 22.3 per cent, meaning almost a quarter of people actively seeking a job have not found one.

About 38 per cent of households have been deemed not suitable, according to the National Occupancy Standard.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said the community is faced with crowded housing, underfunded education and lack of addiction support. He said those circumstances are similar to many other indigenous communities across the province.

"We're talking about a community that has two security guards at the liquor store, but no security at the schools," said Cameron. "Something's wrong there."

Community wants improvements

Marie Trottier says a bond between young and old residents is needed in La Loche, Sask. (Matt Kruchak/CBC)
For Herman, a better La Loche includes resources to help young people cope with life. A foster child since birth, he said his upbringing was confusing. He went from foster home to foster home, being taught different ways to live each time he moved.

"We need somebody to tell us, 'Oh, this is the stuff you're going to be feeling, it's natural to feel stuff like that and these are the things you need to do,' or 'these are the steps you have to take in order for you to move on,'" he said.

"We don't have people doing that for us."

When La Loche's acting mayor Kevin Janvier was asked during a press conference Sunday afternoon what the village needed following the shootings, he simply said, "we need lots of resources."

Andrew Lemaigre, 65, said resources are needed to deal with drugs and alcohol to make the village he loves a place where young people can thrive.

Four people were killed by teenaged shooter on Jan 22, 2016 in La Loche: (Clockwise from top left): Marie Janvier, 21; Adam Wood, 35; Drayden Fontaine, 13; and Dayne Fontaine, 17. (Submitted to CBC/Facebook)
"[We need to] try to pull together, get rid of drugs and alcohol, to a certain extent, I mean, I have nothing against drugs or alcohol, but it's the way it's been abused," he said.

Don Herman said young people need to be taught the old ways. He said modern life helps contribute to the high suicide rate.

"Now, with the modern world, the furnace is there, the running water's there, their technology's there," he said.

"All they do is sit in their room inside playing with their technology, and they're not used to working outside. That's why they say it's always boring and they end up with their lives like this."

'We need to build up this respect'

In the 1960s and 1970s, the kids were outside most of the time, doing what they had to do, like haul wood and water, Herman said.

CBC Forum

"I think that in any community, change and development is best started from the bottom up."  ​— a comment from Adam in the CBC Forum. Read the full discussion.

Marie Trottier said the town she grew up in needs a way for elders to be involved with young people, and young people need to be involved with elders.

"We need to build up this respect," she said. "It's a good people community. I know that. It's only that we need a few things that need to happen."

Like Herman, they all hope for a better La Loche.

With files from CBC's Tiffany Cassidy, Kathy Fitzpatrick, David Shield