LA LOCHE: Are we learning and do we understand? Are the government of Canada and mainstream media trying to grow a conscience?
La Loche, Saskatchewan
By Tamara Hansen On January 25 I sat down and read a National Post article titled, “‘He was not a monster. He was hurting’: La Loche shooting suspect was frequently bullied about his ears”. The article was about the 17 year old alleged high school shooter in La Loche, Saskatchewan. I found the article both deeply refreshing and disturbing. So much so that I had to share it on Facebook. I wrote: “A very interesting article on the high school shooting in La Loche. It seems community members are angry at the lack of health services rather than the shooter, which is a refreshing perspective rarely read in mainstream news. This event is a tragedy from every angle and I do not mean to diminish the horrible nature of this crime. However, there is no move to blame videos games or music or the way he dressed. Many seem to be taking this as a warning that this will happen again if health and social programs continue to get cut in communities across Canada, especially Indigenous communities. This is an important lesson I feel is often missed in these type of awful events.” After a human tragedy the most common question people will ask is ‘why’? Interestingly, reading media coverage of the high school shooting in La Loche was immediately different. Somehow, from the media coverage, it seemed that many in the community had a deep sense of why this happened. But I started to get uneasy about the picture that was being painted by the articles I read when I watched an interview on CBC’s The National with Wab Kinew, an Indigenous rapper, author, professor and CBC personality. The interviewer Wendy Mesley’s first question seemed to be a common thread in the media relating to the tragedy in La Loche. She asked, “The thing that stuck with me in all of the news coverage was the sort of repeated message from people in La
FIRE THIS TIME
Loche, some who are related to the victims, even related to the suspect. Almost a sense of understanding of where this could have come from. Is the misery, is the hardship in some of these northern communities that intense, that people can understand where that might have come from?” Kinew responds, “I think it might be more of a reflection on the generosity of spirit of the people in La Loche, than on the social causes. Because to me what happened in La Loche is such a tragedy that we’re never going to find a satisfactory answer and it’s because you can’t rationalize somebody taking so many lives and injuring so many others in this way. But to answer the truthful element in your question, about are the social conditions in the north and in Indigenous communities at a breaking point? I think, yeah, we’ve known for years in this country that Indigenous kids, in particular, face greater barriers and longer odds on the road to be successful. [...] The thing that I encourage everyone in this country to remember is that this is not a northern tragedy, this is not an Indigenous tragedy; this is a Canadian tragedy.” Kinew’s insight is helpful because it is a warning to not take every journalists interpretation at face value. Could it be that rather than really understanding why one of their youth might commit these terrible crimes, community members were just responding in a different way and with a different mind-set than we are used to? Could it be that they are forgiving people and not interested in “an eye for an eye” justice? Could it be something else entirely? What happened in La Loche? On January 22, 2016 a 17 year old arrived at the La Loche Community School. He shot and killed two people, Marie Janvier and
Vo l u m e 1 0 I s s u e 2 - Fe b r u a r y 2 0 1 6
Adam Wood, and injured 7 others. It was later discovered that before coming to the school he had also killed two brothers Drayden and Dayne Fontaine, who were 13 and 17 years old. It was initially reported that the shooter is related to the two brothers, however due to Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, no further information has been released. La Loche is a community of about 2,600 residents in northern Saskatchewan. It is a predominantly aboriginal community. The community school has about 150 teachers and students. It has been reported that the young suspect was bullied and harassed in school. It has also been reported that he is facing the following charges: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted murder and unauthorized possession of a firearm. Some articles called the incident in La Loche ‘one of the most deadly’ school shootings in Canada’s history, another said it was ‘the most deadly’. How La Loche different than other school shooting tragedies? First, this incident took place in the north of Canada in a mostly Indigenous community. It is easy for a lot of people in Canada, especially white Canadians, to write this off as a northern or Indigenous problem as Wab Kinew mentioned. Also, because the community is so isolated, it is not treated the same as if this happened in Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto – the logic seems to be that if there are copy-cat shootings they will probably be by another disenfranchised and alienated young Indigenous person, probably on some reserve somewhere. This might seem pessimistic, but if you read the comments