Two Sask. First Nations host forum to put issues of gangs, drugs out in the open

Organizers of a two-day forum in North Battleford say the mainstream justice system has failed their people and it's time for a new approach based on Indigenous cultural values and ancient laws.

Poundmaker and Little Pine bands believe Cree teachings can provide solutions

The Poundmaker Cree Nation is one of two Sask. First Nation hosting a forum in North Battleford this week on drugs and gangs.

Two Battlefords-area First Nations are having an open discussion this week about drugs and gangs in their communities.

The Poundmaker and Little Pine First Nations are hosting a two-day forum in North Battleford. It began Thursday.

Organizers said the mainstream justice system has failed their people and that it's time to create a new model driven by Indigenous cultural values and ancient laws.

Poundmaker headman Milton Tootoosis said gang activity has some community members living in fear.

"We hear of situations where there's been gang members infiltrating the community, looking for individuals in our community," he said.

We do know we have crystal meth in the community.- Poundmaker headman Milton Tootoosis

Jacob Pete, an elder and retired police officer from the Little Pine First Nation, said there is concern in his community about retribution from gang members.

"We had a situation in our community where this particular person's son was selling drugs," he said. "They came to collect money. He wasn't there, and she didn't have the money. They raped her.

"Another situation, the enforcers came in, the father stepped in," he said. "They shot the father in the leg, and they shot the son in the leg, and they said, 'Next time, we'll kill you.'"

Tootoosis said the forum is a safe place for people to talk openly and frankly about gangs and drugs.

He said many of the conversations will be held in small groups and recommendations from community members will be recorded without names attached.

Poundmaker Cree Nation headman Milton Tootoosis says Cree teachings can provide the solution to drugs and gangs in his community. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Tootoosis ​said the presence of crystal meth on his reserve has resulted in some unsettling incidents.

"Rarely do people go public about it, but we do know we have crystal meth in the community," he said. "We've had incidents whereby there was alarming situations which created a lot of concern for the parents."

He said there was a case within the last year where an individual "obviously high on meth" caught people off guard and "traumatized" school staff. He said his reserve needs help to train individuals to handle situations like that.

Pete said another problem is community members know who the drug dealers are, but are unwilling to help police.

"We need people to be able to identify some people," he said. "Our concept is kind of ... they have a tendency not to report their people. That means you look after your family, you never turn on your family, that type of stuff. And that's affecting investigations, as well."

Tootoosis said the solutions are found in traditional Cree teachings.

"We can get back to those ancient values and virtues and principles of living a good life," he said. "Miyo-pimatisiwin is part of our theme for this gathering. That means living a good life. What does that mean? And it's time to get back to that."

Pete agreed that the solutions can be found in Indigenous traditions.

"We need to create our own police forces so that the people could have discretionary authority in terms of how and when they do charge people," he said. "Instead of charging them, why don't they use the restorative justice concept?"

"Let's see if we can straighten this person out. But then if you can't straighten him out, then the non-traditional, non-Aboriginal justice takes over."

The forum is taking place at the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts in North Battleford.

Tootoosis said anyone is welcome to attend.


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