PBCN sends open letter to provincial and federal governments because of situation in Pelican Narrows

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald PBCN Chief Karen Bird reads the open letter at a press conference at the PBCN Health boardroom on Monday.

The community of Pelican Narrows is in crisis and the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) has sent an open letter to Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to address public safety in the community.

Pelican Narrows is a hurting community of broken systems, PBCN Chief Karen Bird said Monday during a press conference at the PBCN Health boardroom.

“I’m here to share not just a message, but a heartfelt plea that we put down in an open letter to those at the highest levels of our government,” Bird said.

“We’re not just one place we we’re a family of eight communities spread out over a massive area in northern Saskatchewan with over 12,000 members, we’re not just a whisper. We’re a voice that needs to be heard.”

Bird said that every area from healthcare to law enforcement is in crisis in Pelican Narrows. Pelican Narrows declared a State of Emergency in October, 2023 and Bird said that these matters had not been addressed.

“Right now in Pelican Narrows, we’re facing a storm that’s hitting us hard,” she said. “It’s not just about the crime rates that are through the roof, it’s about every part of our community. It’s more than just a rough patch. It’s an emergency that’s got us calling out for help, louder and louder.

“I want to stress our strong desire to lift the state of emergency for all our communities. However, it hinges on receiving crucial funding resources and or the current situation requires swift action.”

Bird said the community needs immediate improvements in public safety, mental health support, vital infrastructure upgrades and reinforced policing capacity. She said those improvements are essential to address the pressing challenges and the end of state of emergency.

“Every place that’s meant to keep us safe and strong, they’re all in crisis,” shes aid.

Pelican Narrows councillor Sarah Swan said everyone lives in fear in Pelican Narrows. She said members of the community report rising crime, including gun violence, gangs and the rampant use of methamphetamine.

“In Pelican, every day we hear gunshots,” she said. “The elders, children, everybody hides in their houses. Our kids can’t even play outside. Our elders can’t even go visiting. All of us live in fear in Pelican Narrows. We want peace.”

Out of control substance abuse and gun violence is pushing health-care services to the breaking point, said community nurse Sarah Van den Broeck via Teams from Pelican Narrows. ‘

Van Den Broeck said that the nurses cannot keep the level of care going at the Angelique Canada Health Centre because of the pressures on the system.

“It has a direct impact and relation to the level of meth use in the community, (and) also violence related to alcohol use, but particularly since we’ve had an increase in meth use,” she explained.

Van den Broeck added that health-care workers treat gunshot, knife and machete wounds on a near daily basis, which is causing trauma in the workers. Injuries from assaults are also a daily occurrence, and the victims include children and babies, according to Van den Broeck.

“We have an excellent healthcare team here in the clinic,” she said. “Despite there being a global shortage of nursing, we have managed to recruit and retain an almost permanent full-time staffing.”.

She said that nurses have come from all over the country and the world to work in Pelican Narrows. They also have experience as emergency nurses and working in the north.

Van den Broeck said that staff are exhausted because they cannot sleep at night because of the noise in the community including gunshots and fireworks. The nursing suites are located across from a known drug house

“There is constant music, there is constant gun shots on a daily basis. That just seems to have become the norm and in no community should that need to be the case,” Van den Broeck said.

“We don’t feel safe at work. We feel like we’re just sitting targets waiting for literally the next James Smith Cree Nation to occur,” Van den Broeck said.

According to Van den Broeck, the situation became so bad on Thursday the Angelique Canada Health Centre closed.

Band councillor Elizabeth Michel said that last week there was also a lockdown ay the school in Pelican Narrows.

“There were children crying, (and) screaming,” she said. “Our children and youth deserve to feel safe in their homes, their school and their community.

“For far too long we have been impacted by the increasing acts of violence in our community,” Michel said. “It hasn’t always been this way. It became worse when the COVID epidemic hit. Our people are now very fearful for their loved ones.”

She said gun violence has “escalated into drive-by shootings at vehicles and at homes.” Those responsible use weapons to “instil fear in our lives,” she added.

The letter calls on the provincial and federal governments to address critical staffing requirements, needed security enhancements, enhanced law enforcement presence, legal framework enforcement and supportive infrastructure and services.

Critical staffing includes an increase in nurse staffing and 24-hour triage services, hiring of well-trained security personnel with intervention capabilities and a significant bolstering of mental health support.

The security enhancements include a provision of essential communication tools, specialized protective equipment, enhanced perimeter security and upgraded surveillance systems for health facilities.

Enhanced law enforcement presence calls for regular assignment of RCMP Crime Reduction Team (CRT), increases in Community Tripartite agreement staffing and proactive crime prevention initiatives.

Legal framework enforcement calls for immediate enforcement of Band Council Resolutions by the RCMP and collaboration to ensure the ability of community bylaws to be put into practice and observed.

Supportive infrastructure and services calls for adequate housing for incoming staff, establishment of a detox centre and construction of a new fire hall with essential equipment.

Speakers who also made similar calls included Pelican Narrows Councillors Michel and Thomas Linklater, FSIN First Vice Chief David Pratt and Vice Chief Craig McCallum and PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte.

Bird concluded the press conference by reading the open letter and then acknowledged that Feb. 5 was also Peter Ballantyne Day, the anniversary of the signing of the treaty.

“When we honour the signing of the Treaty 6, our ancestors knew the importance of working together, so it is time for the government to honour our treaties and step up in many areas of what we are talking about today,” Bird said.