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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) falls on his knees as he skates around Ottawa Senators defenceman Artem Zub (2) during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, February 18, 2021. The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews when they take on the Edmonton Oilers Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto star Auston Matthews won’t play as Leafs face Oilers

EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Wetaskiwin RCMP say a Maskwacis man died after he was struck by a vehicle. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; Mounties review their role

REGINA — A first-of-its-kind law in Canada meant to warn those at… Continue reading

The Magpie river in Quebec is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boreal River MANDATORY CREDIT
Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement

MONTREAL — With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding… Continue reading

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Most Read