People in La Loche gathered to grieve, pray and demand action at a vigil at the town hall on Sunday night after a school shooting on Friday that left four dead.
About 300 took part and the emotion was still raw for many. One young man who gave his name as Perry was moved to tears as he spoke into a microphone at the front of the room.
“A month, a year, 10 years down the line, we’re going to be affected. But is that all we’re going to feel? Or are we going to take a stand and do something about it? I’m not only speaking about us, but our leaders need to step up, too,” he said to applause.
A few of those leaders came to La Loche earlier in the day. Premier Brad Wall, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, MP Georgina Jolibois and Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde met with community members at the Ducharme Elementary School, about one kilometre away from the Dene High School building where two of the victims of the Jan.22 shooting were killed.
From there, they were joined by La Loche Mayor Kevin Janvier as they laid a wreath at a makeshift memorial set up in front of the high school.
Speaking to a crowd gathered at the site, Wall said he’d heard from people across the country and across the province expressing their sadness at the tragedy.
Wall promised ongoing help for those left scared and traumatized,
“You’re going to need supports, and you’ll have them,” he said.
The community has long faced problems of endemic poverty, youth suicide, addiction and violence. Wall committed to working with local people, as well as other levels of government, to address La Loche’s long term needs.
Bellegarde spoke of the need for people to reclaim pride in their Dene heritage and the need for better programs and services for youth.
Goodale pledged the federal government’s support in restoring people’s sense of safety in their community.
Julius Park was among the people who came to see the wreath-laying. He said it was important for the community to help itself.
“We need to demonstrate that we can do it, and the actions that are going to take place is going to be first and foremost with the people themselves that are hurting, to heal inside as individuals,”he said.
Park, who grew up in La Loche and attended Dene High School before moving away, said he hoped people would come to see a different side of the community than what’s been portrayed in the news.
“We do have a lot of values, that we respect each other. It’s not just some of the negative things that people hear about in the community of La Loche. Things do happen in this community, we acknowledge that, and people are there to help each other. I want to let people know that this is something that happened, and it could happen anywhere,” he said.