Two central Alberta First Nations are taking back control of their territories and protecting families with new bylaws to evict drug dealers.
On Wednesday, chiefs from the O’Chiese and Sunchild First Nations signed bylaws to give them the power to drive out illegal drug use and clean up their communities.
But O’Chiese Chief Douglas Beaverbones expects drug dealers won’t make it easy.
“I think they’re going to challenge us. They’re going to threaten us. They’re going to try and find ways to hurt me, or people, against them,” said Beaverbones after the official signing that included a pipe ceremony and prayer.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re going to face a few obstacles on the way. But I think in one year, I think everyone will feel safe. That’s what I’m hoping.”
O’Chiese, located about 52 kilometres northwest of Rocky Mountain House, has about 1,500 members. Nearby Sunchild has about 1,440 members.
He said other First Nations in Alberta have enacted similar bylaws. In a few months, the finishing touches on the O’Chiese and Sunchild bylaws will be complete.
Penalties and appeals will be handled by a body made up of seven community members from various sectors on the First Nations lands.
Beaverbones said drug abuse has become an epidemic, and earlier this year, he was approached by a few O’Chiese members scared for children in the community.
“Crime escalated. People are killing each other. There’s been shootings. People are running over each other on roads, and there’s people breaking into homes, people abusing elders to get money. That’s why we had to do something.”
Beaverbones said he found strength after speaking with an elder, then formed a team to look at the issue. Soon, Sunchild joined the effort.
Both communities found overwhelming support after several public consultations that began in the spring.
“We’re taking control of our communities now. We can fight these drug dealers. We can kick them off the reserve,” Beaverbones said.
“It was a monumental day today.”
The First Nations are working with the RCMP and the criminal justice system with their initiative.