Huddled with blankets and candles, around 80 Saskatoon educators came together Sunday to mourn the loss of two teachers in La Loche.
On Friday the town was shaken after a teenager shot and killed four people including two teachers and two brothers in La Loche.
Teacher Kelli White said they wanted to support all the victims’ families and the community, so they decided to host a vigil outside the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) building on Arlington Avenue at 8 p.m.
“To hear of a fellow colleague being shot down doing the things they love, working with kids, it hits so close to home being in our own province,” White said. “It’s just a way for us to deal with the tragedy as well.”
Teacher Adam Wood, 35, and educational assistant Marie Janvier, 21, were shot to death at Dene high school on Friday. They were among the four victims including brothers Danye, 17, and Drayden, 13, Fontaine.
White said she was devastated by news of the shooting and thoughts of the frightened students and parents.
“Communities are strong and they’re going to come together and get through this, but it takes a lot of support to get through something like this,” she said.
When students return to school Monday morning, White said teachers will talk to them about Friday’s events, find out what students know, cater to different ages and reassure students they are safe in school. She encouraged any students with questions or concerns to reach out to school staff and their family.
STF president Pat Maze said the federation is working on ways to send direct support to the community and grieving families. He said two councilors will be flown into the community to help students and teachers returning to school.
“No body goes to work to have situations like this occur so we just want to make sure teachers are looking after each other and supporting each other as needed,” he said.
Maze said northern schools present unique challenges, including getting school supplies and resources up to the community.
White said despite the tragedy, and despite any challenges a school may face, people should not forget the good that happens in schools as well.
U of S hosts prayer circle
On Monday, prayers, words of healing, soup, and sweetgrass, filled the University of Saskatchewan Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre as students and staff came together in a prayer circle for the victims and families of the La Loche shooting.
“Gathering is the most powerful thing we can do together as a community,” aboriginal initiatives director Candace Wasacase Lafferty said to the crowd of around 120 who gathered in the new centre’s rotunda.
Elder Louise Halfe offered opening prayers and spoke about the tragedy and how it is affecting communities across Canada. Several times she paused mid-sentence and clasped her hand over her mouth as she fought back tears.
A lunch of soup and bannock warmed stomachs as one-by-one members of the audience approached a microphone and opened up before the group.
“The best thing we can do is provide a space for people to come together, pray, heal and listen; and listening is a big part of that,” Wasacase Lafferty said.
Though many who spoke were not directly affected by the tragedy, they spoke of how they were impacted and of larger issues they say need to be addressed to prevent future incidents.
Among them was Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth, a Dene woman who grew up in the north near La Loche. Around her, a group of Dene students stood silently as she spoke of life in the north, the struggles of being a teacher, and the heartache of hearing about the tragedy.
Student Jordan Klein-Cheecham spoke briefly and said she was proud to come from La Loche because it made her the person she is today.
Another woman, said she may not have been Dene, but the north was more home to her and the people there more family to her than anything else. She said she dreams of becoming a teacher in the north and setting a good example for students.
The U of S sent a notice out to students, teachers and staff, telling them counseling services and employee assistance programs are available.
Park Funeral Chapel is offering Saskatoon residents a chance to send their thoughts to La Loche. All this week, residents can visit the chapel and sign a book.
Meanwhile the City of Saskatoon has lowered city flags to half mast for the La Loche victims.