by Clint Buehler
HOBBEMA, AB – Residents of this First Nations community are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more.
The final straw that galvanized the community was the wounding of two-year-old Asia Saddleback in a drive-by shooting when a bullet went through a wall and struck her in the abdomen while she sat at the kitchen table eating soup.
Fortunately, Asia is recovering nicely, but her mother, Candace, moved her family off the reserve immediately after the incident and vows never to return despite having lived there all her life.
An 18-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy, rivals of another gang with members related the little girl, have been arrested in the case.
Residents had been enduring ongoing warfare between rival gangs vying for the lucrative drug trabe for years, with almost daily beatings, stabbings, shootings and arson. There are 13 gangs and more than 200 gangsters, plus the dozens of children as young as 10 they recruit to deliver drugs for them.
Most of the 12,000 residents of the community had been reluctant to defy them for fear of retaliation.
But that changed fast when Marvin Yellowbird, chief of the Samson Cree Nation, called for a meeting to create a Community Task Force to tackle the problem. More than 100 attended that meeting.
While a suggestion that gang members be banished from the community was rejected, serious consideration is being given to make them ineligible for band housing.
The Samson Cree Nation has imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on 12 to 17 on its reserve. (Much of the violence occurs on the Samson townsite.) The curfew will be enforced by the RCMP who will take anyone in that age group found outside on the reserve will be taken to the local police station, where their parents or guardian will have to pick them up.
Anyone who violates curfew faces up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Exceptions will be made for teens going to and from work, school activities, religious functions or organized recreational activities “without detour or stop,” and for those accompanied by adults 21 years or older.
There was a call for more RCMP to police the community which was answered positively, and officers report that since the Asia incident they have been receiving more tips from residents, some of which have led to arrests.
The RCMP also gave the community a major boost when RCMP Commissioner chose to present medals for years of service, bravery and outstanding service to dozens of officers from across Alberta in the high school gymnasium here.
He noted in his remarks that Hobbema is not alone in its problems and they are not restricted to Aboriginal communities, and unfortunately, “there are challenges in communities big and small across the country.
“Obviously there are big challenges here, but the community and its leaders, I think, are determined to work with partners like the RCMP and other agencies to make improvements. And the fact that you’ve got over a thousand kids in a cadet program is very encouraging.” The members of Hobbema Community Cadet Corps had marched on parade earlier in the evening.