Friday, January 22, 2016

Prayers for La Loche

I'm not a politician, nor do I aspire to be one. I'm not usually one to climb atop a soapbox (unless the subject is the Green Bay Packers), but I'm having a hard time processing the events in La Loche today without feeling a combination of sadness, frustration and anger.

First, of course deepest sympathies go out to the people of La Loche, particularly those directly impacted by today's tragic events. The rest of us are rightfully shocked and sympathetic, but those feelings will diminish as we return to daily life in Regina, Ottawa and elsewhere. Here's the problem: I firmly believe the school shooting in La Loche is more than a terrible tragedy. It's a cry for help.

I've never been to La Loche. In fact, I've only spent one day out of my entire life in the northern part of this province. But, I've been privy to a fair bit of information about the situation up there. What happened today isn't a gun control issue. It isn't necessarily a political issue. It's more. Way, way more.

Suffice it to say our northern communities are no strangers to high rates of poverty, crime, substance abuse, violence and teen suicide (triple the per capita numbers of anywhere else in the province). And this isn't solely a Saskatchewan problem. Similar scenarios are playing out in northern communities across Canada.

So, what's being done about it? To be fair, governments have tried and continue to try. Cross ministerial and cross jurisdictional consultations have happened and programs have been launched. All the stakeholders have been invited to the table. But still, the pain continues. And it's not going away anytime soon.

Part of the problem is we're talking about a small and geographically spread out population base in the north. It's easy to forget about them while enjoying a glass of chardonnay in Wascana View or Lakeview. Small populations also don't carry a lot of votes. Then, have you ever tried to get politicians and/or bureaucrats from various levels of government to agree on anything? Good luck with that. And there's also a very real distrust of government types from "down south" within northern communities.

So, what's the answer? Lord, I wish I knew. But I do know that we all have a stake in this. (Trust me, when the powder keg goes off in the north, you'll feel it wherever you are.) We need to find solutions that are driven by the local communities. The people of La Loche and the north are the experts on what's happening in their backyards. Let's treat them like it.

But of course, solutions without resources behind them amount to lip service. And that's when the vicious cycle of distrust, despair and hopelessness is nurtured. Let's get everyone to the table (with chequebooks in hand), including the youth - especially the youth - and keep them there until some strategies are developed and committed to.

We have a new government in Ottawa. Let's see if Mr. Trudeau's "Sunny Ways" include the people of northern Saskatchewan. The mayor of La Ronge is running for the SaskParty government in the upcoming provincial election. Let's see if
Thomas Sierzycki can convince his colleagues to address the problem. Let's see if the NDP can hold the government to account on this issue. Let's encourage the people of the north to put aside their (well-earned!) distrust of the southern political machinery in order to build a brighter future for their communities.

For now, sympathy and compassion must rule the day. The Premier should visit the community. Tears will be shed and speeches will be made. But then, the real work must begin. 

Let's do something before another mother has to bury a son or daughter because someone saw the only solution available to them at the end of a gun barrel. Or a needle.

I'm going to borrow a hashtag from the Toronto Raptors NBA team. I think in this case it's also an expression of solidarity with our northern neighbours.