Band councillor for Clearwater River Dene Nation Lester Herman, La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre, Friendship Centre Executive Director Leonard Montgrand and acting Principal Greg Hatch. Photo by Chelsea Laskowski.
There’s no denying that La Loche has received increased governmental assistance since the Jan. 22, 2016 shooting, but that’s not keeping leadership in the community from saying they feel “abandoned.”
La Loche’s mayor was joined by representatives from the Friendship Centre and nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation during a media availability Monday afternoon, where they provided a frank update on how the community is recovering from last January's mass shooting.
The high school Dene Building’s acting principal Greg Hatch said they feel abandoned – not by individuals, but in the big picture - even though big promises were made soon after the shooting.
“Everyone rushed into our community, into our school they were with us for little over a month. Then everybody left,” he said.
“For the most part, people, we feel that we’ve been left alone, that we’ve been abandoned. I can honestly say that on behalf of the students and staff and probably parents.”
As an example, Hatch says when students returned to class in the fall, their school's front doors and windows were still boarded up from the bullet holes that were shot in the school last January when a 17-year-old shooter entered the high school and killed teacher Adam Wood and teacher’s aide Marie Janvier, while also injuring seven others. Prior to entering the school, the shooter killed teen brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine.
Hatch said those events have left a mark on students and staff. Among other things, this takes the form of former star students struggling to succeed in school, and attendance dropping.
“We were traumatized. We still haven’t dealt with the trauma. We’re working on a plan at the present time, but we’re almost a year later and we’re starting to look at how we’re going to address trauma with a healing plan,”
He said even on Monday it was difficult for him to enter the high school, and added that no extra counselling supports have been offered in the lead-up to the anniversary of the shooting.
Monday marked the first time since the shooting that La Loche has held a media conference without the province or school division taking an organizing role.
At the meeting, recently elected mayor Robert St. Pierre listed off all the priorities that a community committee had identified after the shooting, and then followed up by listing whether or not those priorities have since been properly addressed by government.
He said community members are still struggling with employment, poverty, and addictions, and need support.
The Friendship Centre’s Leonard Montgrand said they have seen an increase in programming in the community, but that’s also led to an increased workload.
He said at this time, La Loche needs a group to come in and help the community implement plans that will net positive results.
St. Pierre also provided a thanks to all who helped in the response to the shooting, saying “your service was nothing short of extraordinary on that day.”
He directly spoke to students, saying “we will do everything in our power to ensure that you are on a proper path to healing.”
He says the community is declaring Jan. 22 as a day of civic day of remembrance. That day, there will be a mass at the school followed by a community meeting. People will then move to the community hall for a gospel. The events of Jan. 22 are intended to be private, for community members only.