A Regina grandmother pushes back as Sask. leads Indigenous homicide rates
Brenda Longman-Jaeger started a group to address issues of violence, following the killing of her grandson
Brenda Longman-Jaeger still struggles to understand why her 14-year-old grandson was killed in Regina a few weeks ago, in what she calls a "senseless death."
Jake Longman was killed and found in an alleyway on Rae Street in Regina's North Central neighbourhood on June 29. He was discovered alongside a 32-year-old woman who was taken to hospital.
Three teenage boys have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with his death, none of whom can be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
"It's just become a really big problem here in the city," Longman-Jaeger said, referring to safety issues, especially for youth.
That's why Longman-Jaeger started a female-led group called the Matriarchs and Warriors Uniting Against Violence, to focus on problems and gangs and to try and help young offenders in Regina.
"It's because of my grandson that this is coming forth. I don't want his death to be in vain," she said.
"I would like to include those other families that suffered the same loss."
One of her concerns is that adults initiate youth into gangs and influence them to commit dangerous and violent crimes.
"It's sickening and we're just tired of it as a community," Longman-Jaeger said.
Janna Pratt, a member of the group, said: "It's not safe for my kids to even be walking to school."
From 2015 to 2020, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of Indigenous people who died by homicide among provinces, with an average rate of 17.57 per 100,000 population, according to a Statistics Canada report, compared to a national average of 8.65 per 100,000.
Meanwhile the rate for non-Indigenous victims in the province during that period was 1.38 per 100,000 people, almost identical to the national average of 1.39.
The difference between the two rates means that from 2015 to 2020, Indigenous people in Saskatchewan were about 13 times more likely to die by homicide than non-Indigenous people. This was the largest disparity in these rates in the country.
It's important that our people, our elders ... get involved to protect the young, protect the youth, as well.- Kim Beaudin, national vice-chief of Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
While gang violence wasn't a leading cause of Indigenous deaths, according to the report, Longman-Jaeger said the threat of gang violence intimidates the community.
"We live on a day-to-day basis having them drive around our neighbourhood and pulling out guns and threatening people, and it just has to stop," she said.
Fostering youth upbringing
Part of the group's mantra is reclaiming the traditional role for matriarchs as leaders and caregivers, Pratt said. Men are also in the group for more rounded support and to help provide a positive male influence.
The Matriarchs group aims to provide youth with a stronger cultural connection with powwows and ceremonies and other alternatives to gang life.
The same Statistics Canada report noted that more than one-third of Indigenous people across Canada witnessed violence by a parent against another person.
LISTEN | Understanding data on high Indigenous homicide victim rates
It links some of these issues, like domestic violence, to the history of colonization, intergenerational trauma and economic deprivation.
In comparison, about one in five non-Indigenous people witnessed the same type of violence.
But that data (along with the rest of the report) needs to be considered through the proper lens, said Robert Henry, an assistant professor in Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan, who specializes in Indigenous criminology.
While the report offers context into Indigenous victimization, Henry said that without context, data doesn't explain why violent crimes are being committed.
"We're not looking at issues related to mental health and addictions, the issues related to poverty," he said.
Without that context, the data may lead some to believe Indigenous people are violent, or children aren't safe at home, he said. He's concerned that could then be interpreted to mean Indigenous children shouldn't be with family, dangerous rhetoric he relates back to the Sixties Scoop, when Indigenous children were taken from their families and adopted out to white families.
Instead, people have to understand how a whole history has created experiences that lead to higher crime rates, he said.
The province needs to look at crime rates through a public health lens, rather than an issue of public health, Henry said.
Community group 'exactly what is needed'
Regina Police Service Chief Evan Bray linked crime rates to socioeconomic issues, saying the vast majority of crime is driven by social issues.
"Rather than wait for the police to respond to the 911 call, let's do something that prevents that child from even needing to call 911 or be involved in a traumatic situation," he said.
This organization, which aims to address social issues by aiding youth find alternatives to violence, is "exactly what is needed."
The lack of trust between Indigenous groups and the police is an important issue that needs to be addressed and the force's joint work with the community group is one step toward that, Bray said.
According to the Statistics Canada report, Indigenous people in Saskatchewan had the lowest level of trust in officers of any province, and the largest population gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who trusted the police force.
Kim Beaudin, national vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples — which represents off-reserve status and non-status First Nations people, Métis and southern Inuit — said he was not surprised and noted he's often heard of youth being accosted by officers.
Beaudin was disheartened, but not surprised, at the high homicide rate and praised the group's commitment to reducing it and helping youth avoid dangerous lifestyles.
"I always said that it's important that our people, our elders and our older people get involved to protect the young, protect the youth, as well," Beaudin said.
With files from Deanna Patterson