Council in a northwest Saskatchewan First Nation is taking a “harsh” approach to ridding its community of drugs, according to the chief.
Sometime this week, six non-band members will be banished from Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation for drug-related activity. Chief Richard Ben said an additional 20 to 25 band members will receive first and final warning.
“For myself and our council, our responsibility is the people of our First Nation. For non-band members to come here and hurt our people, that is not right and we feel those people should be immediately banished,” Ben said.
Ben added council had legal assistance to draft a bylaw to ensure no appeals can happen. The bylaw is expected to be finalized after a meeting with the elder’s council later this week.
For the 20 to 25 band members getting first and final warnings Ben said the last thing council wants to do is banish them.
Instead Ben said council wants to help them heal either by entering a rehabilitation program or seek counselling. He said if they choose to continue associating with drugs, members risk losing their house or financing.
“We’re at a point… this is coming from our council, this is coming from the community and our elders, they’re saying ‘enough [is] enough,’ we have to worry about our kids,” Ben said. “When you hear of kids between 10 and 13 who are taking drugs like meth, it’s crazy, it’s scary and you can’t help but to feel afraid.”
With a 12 year-old daughter, Ben can’t help but wonder what could happen if she was peer pressured.
“It’s my job, its council’s job, it’s the community’s job to take care of our children,” he said.
Over the last year, five community meetings were held and every time Ben said it was clear a banishment option was necessary.
Since people got word of council doing this, a lot of drug users have started going to rehab. Ben said a lot of them are seeking help and they’re asking council and the health department for help.
“They’re saying ‘I know this is hurting my family, I know this is hurting our people, help me.’ And that’s one of the best moments for us as leaders, they’re asking us for help,” Ben said.
On the warning letters band members receive are terms each must meet to show he or she is willing to change.
As for the non-band members Ben said since they aren’t from Makwa Sahgaiehcan, they aren’t his concern.
“We’re here to take care of the people of our community. For the band members in first and final warnings, we’re going to be harsh on them because we want them to change. We want them to stop,” he said. “It’s harsh. We don’t want to do it, but for the safety of our kids, we have to. The last thing we want is one of our children to pass on from drugs… it’s scary but this is what you have to do to get rid of drugs on the reserve.”
Ben added other First Nations have talked about doing something similar. Council from Muskoday First Nation, southeast of Prince Albert, banished those who pose a threat to their community but Makwa Sahgaiehcan is the first reservation to banish people for drug activity.
Colton Swiderski is meadowlakeNOW's municipal affairs, crime and court, health and education reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @coltonswiderski.
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