MP Georgina Jolibois and Lorna Lemaigre at the Friendship Centre. Photo by Chelsea Laskowski

The outside world is looking in at La Loche this week, after a school shooting shook the entire country.

The grieving process of what is truly a community tragedy is not the only thing at play, though. There’s something else that’s been painful and frustrating for residents like Lorna Lemaigre.

Friday’s mass school shooting underscored social issues like crime and suicides and media reports reintroduced long-known statistics. In the past week, people across Canada have come up with ideas to “fix” La Loche and northern communities. One MacLeans article suggested: “we need to help them leave these communities, forever.”

Lemaigre is fed up with the onslaught of outside perspectives that are rife with snap judgments and misunderstandings about her home of 30-plus years – where “my spot at the graveyard is already blocked out.

“This will be my forever place in the world. La Loche has a heart like no other. It is amazing, caring, hurt but generous. And I wouldn’t trade my home for anything in the world,” she explained.

Beneath the statistics, there’s an incredibly accepting community. People with cognitive disabilities, those with addictions, and people with difficult pasts are all treated as equals in La Loche, she said.

“You can be as wild and wonderful as you like. As long as that is the you that is real, you can be that here… that alone makes this an amazing place and I hope that never, ever changes – just the level of acceptance of people and who they are, and how they get through their day.

Recently-elected MP Georgina Jolibois is the village’s former mayor.

“People in northern Saskatchewan have a tremendous heart to love and to help and to unite,” Jolibois said. “We have positive stories and we want our positive stories to come out. We are healing from this experience.”

For locals, the tragedy in La Loche has just given another reason to distrust outsiders.

For years, the stories of the remote northern community only come out during the dark times.

Lemaigre says those in the south often take for granted simple services that are rare or non-existent in La Loche. One striking example is when the health centre had no supply of body bags for a period that never would have been acceptable elsewhere. While they went without, La Loche’s dead had to be taken away with blankets over them.

More examples exist when you compare courts, gas prices, groceries, and the fact that La Loche has not a single bank.

“So we make less money, pay higher prices, get fewer resources and then get kicked around and told ‘what are you complaining about? It’s your fault that you live the way you live,’” Lemaigre said.

Lemaigre works with one of the few federally-funded family-strengthening programs, and was previously an educator.

She says solutions in the wake of the weekend’s tragedy must be unique to La Loche, not a one-size-fits-all plan.

“We are a community that has no reason to trust outsiders. And I do believe that we have the ability to get where we want to be if barriers are removed, policies and mandates fit our needs instead of the agencies. Because currently everyone uses our statistics to pad their own resources and their own income,” Lemaigre said.

Within the walls of La Loche’s homes and community buildings, there’s something going on that the outside world hasn’t seen. Internally, La Loche’s people have created a cocoon to protect themselves from outsiders and ensure their most grief-stricken residents are able to focus on their healing.

For Jolibois, there is hope in the words of provincial and federal leaders, who have promised meaningful change and supports for La Loche.