Pelican Narrows announces new safety measures in response to gun violence, drug crisis

Photo by Tina Pelletier. Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Karen Bird at the October community consultation meeting.

by Angela Amato

Regina Leader-Post

An Indigenous community in northern Saskatchewan facing an insurmountable drug, violence and mental health crisis announced new safety measures following a lockdown due to reports of an active shooter last week.

Pelican Narrows, a community of approximately 2,700 people, declared two state of emergencies in 2023. The most recent was in October following the death of a teenage boy, and is still in effect. Two individuals have been charged with second-degree murder in relation to the boy’s death.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Karen Bird said there will be a higher RCMP presence in Pelican Narrows as well as security to protect health care workers at their Emergency Operations Centre.

“The improvements that are needed are being identified and the resources are being located,” said Bird during a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon. “We do have a plan going forward.”

On Monday, Saskatchewan RCMP released a statement following a “targeted enforcement project” in Pelican Narrows over the weekend that resulted in 12 arrests, five firearm seizures and 210 grams of methamphetamines confiscated.

Pelican Narrows councillor Sarah Swan said this was the first time in ages that they’ve had a peaceful weekend.

“Having the RCMP and the extra enforcement coming to our community made a very big difference in our lives,” said Swan at the news conference. “Our weekend was very quiet. We didn’t hear a gunshot, we didn’t hear many planes above our skies, there were less incidents.”

“We feel that we are safe, we are somewhat at peace,” she said.

During a virtual news conference last week, Swan said residents of the community are afraid to leave their homes and hear gunshots daily.

Bird said leadership has sounded the alarm, contacting the provincial and federal government about the community’s needs and that the First Nation is working on setting dates to present a proposal for potential funding for more health, policing and community resources.

Health care workers in the community are swamped, treating gunshot wounds, stabbings and injuries from assaults nearly every day. During last week’s news conference, community nurse Sarah Van den Broeck said the health care system in Pelican Narrows is on the brink of collapse as services are pushed to the limit.

Schools in the area as well as the health centre have been briefed with procedures in case of an emergency situation. A security information session will also be held on Friday for community members and local businesses, RCMP’s acting district commander Inspector Stephen Bergerman told media Tuesday.

“Being proactive is one of the best ways that we can to keep our community safe,” said Bird.

The community, one of eight that is part of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, faces inadequate housing and high unemployment rates on top of increased gun violence, gang activity and drug use.

“We have a lot of obstacles that we deal with on a daily basis,” said Bird, adding some households have 15 people living under the same roof, forcing residents to sleep in shifts. “When the young people are not having a place to sleep, waiting for a bed for the next day, these activities are happening in the night. These are one of the root causes that we’re dealing with and trying to remediate.”

Bird said she has also been communicating with Chief Wally Burns from James Smith Cree Nation about the safety measures the community has taken following the 2022 stabbings.

“We have been in talks … and that’s something that we want to avoid,” said Bird. “We want to keep our community members safe … I pray to god that we don’t have to face that.”

— With files from Rob O’Flanagan, Saskatoon Star