Ottawa funds gang reduction strategy in Maskwacis

A gang reduction initiative modelled after one in Chicago that reduced shootings in that city’s most violent neighbourhood by nearly 70 per cent in its first year is coming to Maskwacis.

A gang reduction initiative modelled after one in Chicago that reduced shootings in that city’s most violent neighbourhood by nearly 70 per cent in its first year is coming to Maskwacis.

On Monday, Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins announced $2.9 million for the community, formerly known as Hobbema, to implement the crime prevention program. The funding over five years comes from Public Safety Canada’s Youth Gang Prevention Fund.

A main part of the successful program in Chicago sees former gang members engaging with youth who may already be involved in gangs to help mitigate conflict before it turns violent. Along with employing “violence interrupters” in the streets to resolve conflicts peacefully, Chicago’s CeaseFire program focuses on behavioural change of high-risk individuals and changing community norms.

Samson Cree Nation band Coun. Kirk Buffalo has already seen some change in community norms stemming from citizens being fed up with the gang violence that has plagued the four First Nations — Ermineskin, Louis Bull, and Montana are the others — that make up Maskwacis. Gang activity has declined, he said, and after the last violent incident community members stepped up to assist RCMP to catch the perpetrator.

“We understand and know we do have a problem of people that have been misguided,” said Buffalo.

“It’s becoming friends and understanding who they are. Once that happens, we won’t be in the news. We can’t change things in five years, but we can definitely make choices and learn from what’s happened in the past to make tomorrow a brighter future,” said Buffalo.

The community of about 12,500 has been beset by violent gang activity in recent years, highlighted by the 2011 shooting death of a five-year-old sleeping in bed by youth gang members. RCMP recently reported that the number of gangs operating in the community had fallen from 13 to five, with 150 to 180 active members, down from 300.

The program at Maskwacis will get underway in the coming months and is being run by the Samson Cree Nation. Called the Maskwacis Conflict Resolution Program: Maskwacis Youth Initiative, it is intended primarily for approximately 600 aboriginal youth aged 14 to 25 who are either involved in gangs or at risk of getting involved in the violent lifestyle.

Saying “the answers lie from within,” Buffalo wants to see people on-reserve facilitating the program and getting young people to talk. He said he hopes collaborative efforts like talking and justice circles will be part of the program, along with traditional ceremonies.

“To me that’s where all the healing begins. That’s where all the connections begin, once you direct the youth to their cultural side, to who they are. The beauty of the ceremonies help develop an individual,” said Buffalo.

Calkins said the community has taken steps in the past few years to reduce the presence of gangs, from removing graffiti and gang signs to knocking down derelict buildings and implementing a bylaw to evict troublesome residents from the community. This funding, he said, can help further pressure gangs through giving at-risk youth alternatives.

“Some of the program facilitators will be former gang members and they’ll be facilitating trust with these at-risk youth and facilitating them away from the gangs … whether they need to further their education and go back to school, whether they need counselling, whether they need some skills training, whatever they might need to get them pointed in the right direction,” he said.

In 2012, the province provided funding for two programs in the community through its Gang Reduction Network. One program helps people recover from grief, trauma and abuse; the other is an intervention program to help children resist gang recruitment.

More than half of the population in Maskwacis is under the age of 18.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Police probe deadly shooting that left 3 dead, 12 wounded in Toronto’s Greektown

TORONTO — Three people died in a shooting rampage that took place… Continue reading

Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney says hateful comments won’t be tolerated

EDMONTON — Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney, addressing party friction over… Continue reading

Charming great white shark delights followers with return to waters off N.S.

HALIFAX — Hilton is back. The great white shark who stole the… Continue reading

One in seven sexual assault cases in 2017 deemed ‘unfounded’: Statcan

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says some 3,900 sexual assaults reported to police… Continue reading

Child’s play at Westerner Days

Balloons bring out the child in everyone

WATCH: Gazebo groundbreaking in Waskasoo

Fifty per cent of the $100,000 project is funded by a provincial government grant

Fiat Chrysler is shaken without visionary CEO behind wheel

MILAN — Investors sent shares in Fiat Chrysler sliding Monday as they… Continue reading

HMCS St. John’s, Sea King return to Halifax port after overseas mission

HALIFAX — HMCS St. John’s and its 240-member crew pulled into their… Continue reading

Danforth rampage continues a deadly year of gun violence for Toronto

TORONTO — Sunday’s deadly rampage in Toronto marks the latest in a… Continue reading

One in seven sexual assault cases in 2017 deemed ‘unfounded’: Statcan

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says some 3,900 sexual assaults reported to police… Continue reading

Iran dismisses Trump’s explosive threat to country’s leader

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranians on Monday shrugged off the possibility that a… Continue reading

Americans in blended families cope with toll of deportation

BOCA DEL R\XCDO, Mexico — It’s almost as if Letty Stegall is… Continue reading

Residents flee forest fire near Greek capital of Athens

ATHENS, Greece — Residents fled their homes Monday as a swift-moving fire… Continue reading

Charming great white shark delights followers with return to waters off N.S.

HALIFAX — Hilton is back. The great white shark who stole the… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month