The results may not be immediate in La Loche, but the help is there.
That was the response from provincial minister of First Nations, Metis and Northern Affairs Donna Harpauer after being asked about comments that the northern Saskatchewan community’s school felt “abandoned.”
The remarks came from the principal of La Loche’s Dene High School, Greg Hatch, who said beyond the first month after a deadly shooting the school was left on their own.
Harpauer said she was “disappointed” by the comments, given the investments the province has made in housing and education in the remote northern community.
“It will take some time to see the results of our initial reactions,” she said.
The minister noted construction is underway on 14 new affordable housing units in the village, and more job training and advanced education programs are being made available.
“You’re not going to see the results of that until those students have graduated,” she said. “Hopefully their successes will be an example to encourage more successes within the community.”
Harpauer did warn that some specialized mental health services, particularly victim impact services, may be difficult to place directly in remote regions like La Loche.
She said it’s one of the realities of living in Saskatchewan.
“It’s just the geographic makeup of our province,” she said. “We, of course, can’t have every specialized service in every community.”
Need for more communication
Harpauer also pointed out deputy ministers have been meeting with leaders in La Loche to assess the needs of the village, with the next meeting scheduled for Jan. 16.
But a former liaison between the government and community says they need to go beyond the leaders to get a real sense of what’s needed.
“Get down into people’s homes and hear what they’re saying,” said Corey O’Soup, who is now the province’s children’s advocate.
O’Soup spent five days a week in La Loche for six months following the shooting, gauging what would help the community most.
He determined the biggest need is economic development.
“We need to give hope and opportunity for these people,” he said.
He echoed comments from La Loche’s mayor in November, saying the village needs basic amenities like a hair salon and restaurant to help foster development.
“We can increase the number of teachers and doctors and nurses,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, if there’s no hope for the future in La Loche, then they’re just going to keep going in that cycle.”