On Friday, Justin Trudeau laid a wreath down at a makeshift memorial while a group of Dene drummers played in front of the high school where two educators in La Loche were shot dead.
Following the song, which asked their ancestors to help heal, an Elder with the drumming group from Buffalo River First Nation spoke in Dene to a tearful crowd. When translated, what he said was a call for La Loche to forgive and to continue with Dene traditions like singing and drumming – which the Elder had been doing since the age of seven, with his nearby son and cousin.
“Let’s teach our kids the right way. That’s the only way we can heal. If we don’t help the young then it’s not going to work.”
He then gave a prayer in Dene.
One of the drummers, Gilbert Benjamin, said his group played the song as a way to show their culture.
“A lot of our people have lost their identity. We don’t have sweat lodges in some communities, we don’t have any pipe ceremonies, we don’t even have any smudging. And all of these things have been taken away from residential school,” Benjamin said.
Elsewhere in La Loche at the same time, family and supporters were filing into the wake for Marie Janvier, the 21-year-old teacher’s assistant who died last Friday.
Benjamin lives in Dillon but said he’s related to Janvier and knew her since she was a small child.
Many in the community have said the sadness of all of this could have been much worse, had it not been for some heroic actions.
In a news conference, the RCMP’s Grant St. Germain called the officer’s response to an “active shooter” scenario was by the book.
St. Germain said in this case, the goal is to engage immediately, bypassing the process of setting up a negotiation team or containing the area.
“They go in and they go after the shooter and they’re actively engaged in pursuing that individual to stop them from doing what they’re doing. And that’s what officers did here,” St. Germain said.
Investigation has mostly wrapped up, St. Germain said, but a motive has not been revealed.
As for how his officers are coping, he said they are not in trauma counselling and were, in fact, comfortable enough to be present as part of Friday’s RCMP duties in La Loche.
Earlier at a conference in the same room, Trudeau vowed to commit to improve and heal La Loche in the long-term.
He acknowledges that La Loche’s issues are not unique – they’re a northern Saskatchewan and cross-Canada problem, and Trudeau highlighted the need for partnerships.