OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s government, grappling with a fatal attack in a remote aboriginal town, is very concerned about the “tragic and alarming” conditions in other indigenous communities, a top official said on Sunday.
A 17-year-old boy was due to appear in court on Monday, charged with four counts of murder after Friday’s deadly incident in La Loche, an impoverished town in the western province of Saskatchewan.
Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took power last year promising to tackle high levels of poverty, crime, bad housing and poor health among aboriginals, who make up 4 percent of the country’s population of 36 million.
House leader Dominic LeBlanc, a key Trudeau ally from the Atlantic province of New Brunswick, told reporters Ottawa would work with aboriginal leaders “to deal with some of the tragic and alarming social indicators in many of these communities”.
He added: “I have some of these communities ... in New Brunswick. I worry about them a great deal, and our whole government does.”
Hundreds of people in La Loche, a community of 2,600, attended a church service on Sunday in memory of the four victims.
Local Roman Catholic Archbishop Murray Chatlain said recent cuts to school and other services could have played a role in the tragedy, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported.
“I think those things need to be revisited. Our cuts sometimes end up costing more,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Trudeau last month promised a new “nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples” - a term that aboriginals use to refer to themselves - and said he would increase funding for indigenous communities.
The head of a group representing 65,000 aboriginals in northern Manitoba, which borders Saskatchewan, said the tragedy showed the need for major investments in mental health, education and the economy.
“I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more - not to this level, of course - given the despair we see,” Sheila North Wilson said in a phone interview.
LeBlanc said improving the lot of the First Nations was “a huge challenge”.
Robert Nault, who served as aboriginal affairs minister under the Liberals from 1999 to 2003, said real change would take a long time.
“So we’re going to have to be patient and start ... working on the lack of infrastructure, the lack of housing, to change our relationship as it relates to education and healthcare,” he said in an interview. “It is a slow process.”
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jonathan Oatis