La Loche healing a year after shooting, but much work remains
'We're managing day by day. It's been a real struggle,' says longtime school administrative assistant
Teachers and school staff in the traumatized northern village of La Loche, Sask., all agreed on a New Year's resolution — try to go home by 6 p.m. every night.
For those working at La Loche Community School, it's not just about education anymore. Since the mass shooting in the school exactly one year ago, they've also become full-time grief counsellors.
Many have been working 14-hour days to help those who remain almost paralyzed by the experience, said longtime administrative assistant Martha Morin.
But others are slowly healing, asking for help and immersing themselves in sports, art or other projects.
"We're managing day by day. It's been a real struggle, so much work," Morin said in an interview.
Morin said she still avoids certain parts of the school, and was "triggered" by the New Year's Eve fireworks in town.
But the terror of that day is slowly being replaced by other memories. On one recent morning, an elder walked through the main doors of the school with a large tray of fried bannock and jam. At lunch time, adult culinary students served a gourmet meal to staff in the gymnasium. Students joked with an RCMP officer in the hall.
Some students are also helping. Fourteen-year-old Brelanda Montgrand is one of La Loche Community School's student leaders. She's supporting her classmates in any way she can. With the proper support, she hopes things will be a bit better one year from now.
"It's just fun seeing smiles, people real friendly. It's like, just nice. It's like a movie, a cartoon movie. Everybody's just happy," she said in a recent interview.
Principal Greg Hatch, like Brelanda and dozens of other students and staff, was trapped behind closed doors during the afternoon of Jan. 22, 2016, as a shooter roamed the halls.
He said there were many heroes that day and students and staff at the school are grateful. But the focus of a private ceremony Sunday in La Loche is remembering the seven who were wounded and the four killed — brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, teacher Adam Wood and teaching assistant Marie Janvier.
"The thing is, I'm alive. Some other people lost their lives that day … a number of people got injured," Hatch said. "There's so many people's lives that have been changed forever."
Hatch and new La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said there has been progress and support in some areas, but overall progress on the rampant poverty, addiction and violence in the community has proven elusive.
They say the school and community need more resources, and those have to be sensitive to local needs. Most of all, agencies and different levels of government have to work together.
"We need that support," St. Pierre said.
"How that comes about, I don't know. Maybe we have the resource here, but we need to identify that resource. We need to be able to provide that employment, provide that structure, and with a lot of the services that we've acquired, pull them together. Have a framework. Have a plan."
In the days after the shooting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Brad Wall and many others came to La Loche and pledged to do more.
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The provincial government has announced a list of improvements and extra resources for the community, from housing to mental health.
The office of Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and northern affairs, noted that more than $1.3 million in new funding has reached La Loche in the past year, including more than $700,000 for the La Loche Friendship Centre.
Bennett said in the emailed statement that she has developed a good relationship with local leaders and hopes that will continue.
Regan Herman, a cousin of Marie Janvier, has lived in La Loche his entire life. He said there are a lot of good people here, but nothing has changed since the shooting.
If anything, he said it's getting more dangerous. He described a drive-by shooting on the main street earlier this month.
"It's getting worse. I barely walk the streets," said the 23-year-old grocery clerk.
"The only thing I go out for is work."