The RCMP in Saskatchewan have collaborated with the Onion Lake Cree Nation to promote gang and drug awareness in a series of videos and educational products.
The Gang Awareness Project arose from a forum organized by Onion Lake Chief and Council that looked for ways to tackle the issues of drug use and gang involvement.
The videos feature community service providers, Chief and Council, Elders, youth, parents and former gang members. Each addresses how gangs and drugs affect the community and how working together can help.
The issue of gangs is complex and it affects people in the community in different ways," says Laili Yazdani, the RCMP's Community Program Officer in Onion Lake. "
Working with the community, it was important for us to listen to feedback and think about how we can engage different community members in addressing the issue."
Onion Lake, located on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border approximately three hours northwest of Saskatoon, is home to nearly 4,000 people and has seen an increase in gang activity.
In January, Onion Lake declared a state of emergency regarding gang violence and has been working with the RCMP to address the issue. The local RCMP detachment works closely with Chief and Council providing reports and crime trends to help target gangs in the area.
Along with the five videos, the project team created six posters and an educational booklet for parents and caregivers.
They address common misconceptions about gangs and the criminal justice system, highlight warning signs, and explain how youth can be supported to prevent gang involvement. They're available in Cree, Dene, Michif, English and French.
We started the project in Onion Lake, however it's meant for Indigenous communities throughout the province of Saskatchewan," says Yazdani. "
We want the materials to be available and accessible for all communities."
The products were created in consultation with the Onion Lake community, Chief and Council as well as the Treaty Governance Office. The project seeks to promote māmawikamātotān, a Cree word meaning "
working together for our communities."
Carmen Carter-Mountain, an outreach worker with the Ekweskeet Healing Lodge, a drug and alcohol treatment centre in Onion Lake, says she participated in the videos to raise awareness and promote love and support embodying māmawikamātotān.
We're all in this together and it shows that in the videos. It helps remind people what we're really here for —to help each other," says Carter-Mountain. "
Our community is loving and supportive and we want to encourage that."
Her son, Carlin Mountain, is featured in the youth video and says he wanted to get involved to set a positive example for other youth.
Sometimes you feel like you can't help your community very much, but this opened an opportunity for youth like me who want to help," says the eighteen-year-old. "
It's important to connect with your roots and I feel that having the Cree name, māmawikamātotān, is significant."
The videos are one way the RCMP is engaging with the community in Onion Lake. Last year, they helped organize a music video with local youth promoting resilience and helped construct a steel teepee that serves as a community monument.
Those involved in the project say there's hope working together can help overcome the fear and intimidation gangs can instill.
Gangs create and thrive off of fear and intimidation in the community," says Yazdani. "
We had a lot of conversations about how to address this and one way is by working together."