A northwest Saskatchewan First Nation is taking a harsh approach to ridding its community of drugs, according to the chief.
Six non-band members will be banished from Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation sometime this week for drug-related activity. Chief Richard Ben said another 20 to 25 band members will get first and final warnings.
“For myself and our council, our responsibility is the people of our First Nation. For non-band members to come here and hurt our people, that is not right and we feel those people should be immediately banished,” Ben said.
Ben said the band council got legal assistance to draft its banishment bylaw in such a way that no appeals can happen. The bylaw is expected to be finalized after a meeting with the elders’ council later this week.
Ben said the last thing council wants to do is banish its own band members.
Instead Ben said council wants them to get counselling or enter a rehabilitation program. He said members who choose to continue associating with drugs risk losing their homes or their financing.
“We’re at a point… this is coming from our council, this is coming from the community and our elders. They’re saying: ‘enough [is] enough, we have to worry about our kids,’” Ben said. “When you hear of kids between 10 and 13 who are taking drugs like meth, it’s crazy, it’s scary and you can’t help but to feel afraid.”
With a 12 year-old daughter, Ben said he can’t help but wonder what could happen if she was peer pressured.
“It’s my job, its council’s job, it’s the community’s job to take care of our children,” he said.
Five community meetings were held on the issue over the last year. Ben said it was clear a banishment option was necessary.
Ben said the prospect of banishment has already motivated several people to seek help from council and the band’s health department.
“They’re saying ‘I know this is hurting my family, I know this is hurting our people, help me.’ And that’s one of the best moments for us as leaders, they’re asking us for help,” Ben said.
The warning letters band members will receive include terms each must meet to show he or she is willing to change.
As for the non-band members, Ben said they aren’t his concern.
“We’re here to take care of the people of our community. For the band members in first and final warnings, we’re going to be harsh on them because we want them to change. We want them to stop,” he said. “It’s harsh. We don’t want to do it, but for the safety of our kids, we have to. The last thing we want is one of our children to pass on from drugs… it’s scary but this is what you have to do to get rid of drugs on the reserve.”
Ben added other First Nations have talked about enacting similar policies in an effort to rid their communities of drugs.