Leaders of a remote Saskatchewan community are calling for help.
They say Pelican Narrows residents are live in fear every day because of drug-fueled violence, stabbings, shootings and suicides, which are the result of historical injustice and geographic isolation.
Registered nurse Sarah Van den Broeck described what it’s like to live and work in the remote Saskatchewan community, located about 420 kilometers northeast of Saskatoon, during a news conference Monday.
She says nurses are exhausted by constant exposure to trauma, and often care for patients with gunshot wounds, machete, hammer and knife attacks, and domestic violence.
“We feel like we’re targets…we think the weapons being used – the sawed-off shotguns – are causing enough damage, but if a larger caliber weapon was used for these shots, we would see murders every day,” he added. ” said Van den Broeck.
“We try to call for help before we get to that point.”
Van den Broeck says it is difficult to sleep because of the noise from the drugstores across the street and the constant screaming. And when she and the other residents manage to fall asleep, fireworks celebrating new batches of meth usually wake them up.
She adds that nurses don’t feel safe walking around, taking their dogs outside or even standing on their patio because of stray bullets that could fall on them.
Clinic closure – non-urgent care
John-Michael Stevens, a doctor at Pelican Narrows, said the local health clinic no longer provides non-emergency care because the staff is too busy handling emergencies.
He added that fear is increasing among staff because there is not enough security at the clinic and the number of intoxicated patients – many of whom are using crystal meth, which could make them violent and unpredictable – which arrive at the clinic increases.
“There have been instances where staff have been threatened and staff involvement has increased and I know there is a growing fear among staff of being victimized by something,” Stevens said.
“We wouldn’t want people to think we’re closing our doors. It’s certainly for the safety of staff and so we can continue to provide emergency services to the community.”
Stevens has worked at Pelican Narrows for seven years and has felt safe most of that time. He said gun violence began to increase in the community in mid-2022.
“Quite recently, it was the first time I felt unsafe. When I left the clinic to walk to my suite, which is not a very long walk, I felt compelled to look around,” Stevens said.
“I really felt a strange feeling, I better hurry because who knows, there might be a bullet flying at the wrong time and wrong place.”
Calls for help
In an open letter to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Karen Bird called for a multi-pronged approach around improved community safety and mental health supports, as well as additional nurses.
After a year of a state of emergency, Bird said residents of Pelican Narrows, which is one of eight communities that make up the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN), continue to feel vulnerable.
The nation covers more than 50,000 square kilometers and has more than 12,000 members.
“We need the right tools and equipment to keep our healthcare heroes and everyone else safe. We need law enforcement that doesn’t just show up when things go wrong, but who are truly part of our community, who monitor and ensure our safety,” says Oiseau.
“We have reached out time and time again with detailed and clear plans and appeals, but the echoes of our cries for help have been met with silence.”
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Health said the Pelican Narrows health center and EMS services are not run by the SHA, but the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation is under contract to operate and manage services in the area. community.
“Saskatchewan Health and SHA are aware of the ongoing violence within the Pelican Narrows community and are working with (Indigenous Services Canada) and PBCN to support the community and residents in the area,” says a statement emailed to CBC.
Bird says the community is at a critical juncture that will determine its future and the well-being and safety of its residents.
A proposal to develop a community safety officer program in Pelican Narrows is still awaiting provincial approval, but Bird says anything done in that direction is funded by the nation, including taking resources away from elsewhere.
“Our ancestors, our people, our future generations, they are all watching over the children – waiting, hoping that this cry for help will be answered,” Bird said.