Saskatoon

Some services might not be possible in La Loche, minister says

Minister for First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Donna Harpauer has said it might not be possible to provide the desired level of services in some remote communities like La Loche, Sask., which was shaken by a shooting almost a year ago.

Donna Harpauer says recruitment among challenges for community shaken by shooting 1 year ago

Minister for First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Donna Harpauer says recruitment and distance are some of the challenges to providing better services to remote communities. (CBC)

Minister for First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Donna Harpauer has said it might not be possible to provide the desired level of services in some remote communities like La Loche, Sask., which was shaken by a shooting almost a year ago.

"It is challenging to have services in every community because in the North it's not a matter of putting a service in a region, because even regionally there is such a great distance," she said, responding to calls for increased support for the troubled community, which is about 500 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

On Monday, local leaders pleaded for better services at a media event preceding the anniversary of a school shooting that killed four people on Jan. 22, 2016.

Leaders raised concerns about inconsistency in local services, long distances required to access victims' services, and insufficient long-term planning.

Harpauer said the provincial government was working collaboratively with the community's leaders to implement new initiatives.

In the year since the shooting, she said the province had invested in additional housing, mental health supports, advanced education and school improvements.

Residents console each other at the memorial near the La Loche Community School in La Loche, Sask., in January 2016. A shooting on Jan. 22 of last year left four people dead. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

More than financial challenges

But she said it might not be possible to address long travel times for some services, like a six-hour drive to access victims' services in Saskatoon.

"To have those offices and those services in each and every remote community is challenging," she said.

"In an ideal world, yes, but realistically I'm not sure if that's possible."

She said hurdles to providing better services in northern Saskatchewan were more than financial, adding that it could be difficult to recruit staff to live in La Loche. 

Harpauer said she believed a lot of good work had been done to assist the community since the shooting, but said the government would be assisting on an ongoing basis.

It's been almost one year since a shooting at the school in La Loche, Sask. (Matt Kruchak/CBC)

Dr. Sara Dungavell is a Saskatoon-based psychiatrist who flies into northern communities monthly.

She hopes the government's commitment to increased supports will span decades, saying 40 to 60 years of programming would be needed to help the community overcome intergenerational trauma.

"I would also hope that whatever the government does it is willing to commit for multiple years of programming instead of whatever brief support they've given in the past and then cancelled just as people felt like it was working," she said.

Healthy childhood activities, parenting skills groups and camps were among the previous programs she said had been successful.

Dungavell said the difference between services in Saskatoon and La Loche were like "night and day."

Gaps connecting patients to services

She said one of the biggest differences was a lack of support in connecting people with the counselling services that are available.

"They don't necessarily have anyone to help support them in making that connection," she said.

"And it's awfully hard to make it when you are depressed, or having a psychotic illness or something else like extreme anxiety that would get in the way of assertively chasing after those services yourself."

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron agreed that more could be done to raise the standard of services for the community.

"If this is what the people of La Loche are saying and thinking then obviously it warrants a need for government to really pay attention," said Cameron.

"But more importantly, the implementation of resources, the implementation of capacity and services has to be offered to the people of La Loche."

With files from CBC's Jennifer Quesnel and CBC Radio's Blue Sky

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