George Brown / Off the Record
Will little Ethan Yellowbird become just the latest in a long line of senseless deaths in Hobbema or will his murder be the catalyst to finally push native leaders to fight back, to clean up the wanton violence on the reserves and reclaim their culture?
It was just a week ago that Ethan, a precocious five-year-old who loved video games, was fatally shot in the head while he slept in his bed in his father’s home. Police say the late-night drive-by shooting is likely gang activity.
What Hobbema is experiencing now is the fruit of a weed that has been sowed for generations on these reserves. Hobbema is a violent community. Beneath the pageantry of its powwows, behind the walls of its modern schools, recreation centres and its shopping mall, Hobbema’s collective indifference to drug abuse and crime is breeding a culture of violence its leaders continue to turn a blind eye to.
If the death of Samson Chief Marvin Yellowbird’s grandson doesn’t inspire the political will for the need to fight gang activity, what hope is there that there will ever be the desire in the community to take back their streets?
Certainly, ordinary honest citizens of the Four Bands are afraid if they snitch they will become targets of the many gangs who have a hold over the community, but it is with the support and commitment of their leaders, the RCMP and senior governments that they must muster the strength to fight back. Their future demands it.
It’s an unfortunate reality that the RCMP, whose manpower has tripled in recent years, cannot prevent gang violence. They’re left to investigate crimes among residents who live by a code of silence that allows gang activity to infest their community. For teenaged children who are forced to fend for themselves, their parents dead or in jail, or simply out of their lives, joining a criminal gang — feeling wanted by someone — has its appeal.
RCMP believe there are six gangs operating in Hobbema — down from a dozen or so a couple of years ago. There were seven homicides in Hobbema in 2008, the year two-year-old Asia Saddleback was shot. But last year there were “only” two criminal murders in a community of 14,000, including the murder of Preston Thom, 15, who was gunned down at Christmastime. RCMP-led community preventative efforts such as the popular cadet corps have helped to illustrate that there can be a life without crime, without alcohol abuse. A domestic violence unit with representation from police, social workers, the schools and elders has helped to raise awareness and identify offenders and their victims.
The RCMP gun amnesty program a few years ago was a joke, by anyone’s standards. Only a handful of guns was turned in to police. And just a few days before the amnesty was launched Aug. 1, 2008, Billy Buffalo, 16, was shot to death and another man wounded in a shootout. A day later, another murder occurred and three weeks after that, another.
Would it take a police raid on the scale of that in Quebec earlier this summer to make a dent in organized crime on the reserves?
Some will blame Hobbema’s inherent poverty, some will blame Hobbema’s squandered wealth, others will blame the paternalistic federal government, and others still will blame the white bogeyman. Clearly, this is a complex issue that requires the full commitment of society’s resources.
What does it take to say enough is enough and take serious measures to eliminate drug and alcohol violence in Hobbema?