Stuck in 'halfway place,' remote Canadian community reels from shooting

Sat Jan 23, 2016 5:18pm EST
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By Julie Gordon and Rod Nickel

VANCOUVER/WINNIPEG (Reuters) - The remote, northern Canadian community where a shooter killed four people and injured seven on Friday has long struggled under the weight of poverty, high suicide rates and disadvantages that most of the country can hardly imagine.

The isolated town of La Loche, in the western province of Saskatchewan, and its neighboring Clearwater River Dene Indian reserve, six hours away from the nearest airport, embody the dire prospects for Canada's Aboriginals, also known as First Nations.

Unemployment stands above 20 percent in the community, suicide and addiction rates are high, homes are overcrowded and family violence is rife in the community which is mostly Metis, a culture with French and Aboriginal roots.

"If you know about this deadly mix of hopelessness and abuse and violence, and drugs and alcohol abuse, and racism and poverty, really it's a perfect recipe for something like this to happen," said Mark Totten, who spent five years working with Aboriginal youth in Saskatchewan, and is now a criminal justice professor at Humber College in Toronto.

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December promised a new “nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples” and an inquiry into the high rates of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Trudeau, 44, was speaking after a report found the forcible separation of Aboriginal children from their families amounted to cultural genocide.

La Loche, set beside a lake and boreal forest at the end of a highway from southern Saskatchewan, one of Canada's wealthiest provinces due to its reserves of crude oil, potash and uranium, has a checkered history of violence.

In 2010, a man was shot dead in broad daylight across the street from the local police detachment. A year later, a mob torched a police truck and attacked two police officers.   Continued...

The Dene high school campus of the La Loche Community School is seen in an undated photo. REUTERS/Raymond Dauvin/Handout via Reuters