Shooting Death of Five-Year-Old Revives Hobbema Violence Crisis

By Clint Buehler

The residents of the Samson Cree Nation town site here awoke to discover that the nightmare of violence in their community is still very much alive. As he lay sleeping in his bed, little Ewan Yellowbird, five-year-old grandson of Samson Chief Marvin Yellowbird, was hit and killed by one of ten bullets fired from into the home. A woman in the home was also injured in the shooting, but her wounds were not serious. RCMP could not confirm whether the woman was the boy’s mother.

Chief Yellowbird was composed as he spoke at a news conference later in the day. “It is a tragic day today for the Yellowbird family as well as the community,” he said. “We’re devastated.” Yellowbird urged witnesses to come forward with information. “The community is blessed with many good people who define who we are. We shall endure,” the chief said.

RCMP Sgt. Tim Taniguchi announced, “We’re working with the community and chief and council to find those people responsible for the shooting.” He would not confirm the shooting is gang-related, but said officers were on the alert for possible violent retaliation. “That’s always a concern and always a possibility,” said Sgt. Taniguchi. “We’re doing everything to ensure the public safety within this community.”

Neighbour Shane Saddleback heard the pop of four or five gunshots and told reporters he believes the violence at Samson is “going to get worse.” Gangs fighting over the drug trade have plagued the community for years, he added. If this was a gang-related shooting, he expects a violent retaliation will soon follow. “Give it one week, I’m pretty sure you’ll hear of another shooting,” said Saddleback.

About 90 minutes before the killing, shots were also fired at another home on the reserve. No one was hurt, but investigators are looking into whether the two shootings are linked. Taniguchi urged witnesses to contact authorities. “We need the public’s assistance and encourage people to come forward with information involving this very, very tragic incident.” Unfortunately, in past incidents of this nature community members have been reluctant to come forward, fearing retaliation.

The Samson reserve is one of four near the town of Hobbema, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton. RCMP Supt. Curtis Zablocki said there has actually been a reduction in violence since 2008 when a toddler was hit in a drive-by shooting. Asia Saddleback, 23 months old, was shot as she sat at a kitchen table eating dinner. She survived, but the bullet is permanently lodged between her liver and spine. After that shooting, the band pledged to curb violence and reduce crime. It imposed a nightly curfew for teens and started a gun amnesty project. Within three months, a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed on the reserve, and relatives confirmed he was a gang member. A 20-year-old woman was also shot in the head when her home was riddled with gunfire. Last November, several bullets struck a 28-year-old man standing in his living room. Several other people in the home, including a 3-year-old child, were unharmed. At the time, RCMP said the shooting appeared to be gang-related, but the victim was not believed to have been involved. Zablocki said there are six gangs currently operating in Hobbema.

Samson Cree First Nation is in discussions with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada seeking funding for a $14 million youth centre as part of the strategy to combat gang violence. The negotiations have been going on for two years, but youth centres do not qualify for federal funding, according to AANDC spokesperson Heather Poitras. A number of initiatives have been launched over the years to counter violence and offer youth in the community alternatives to the gang lifestyle. One of the most successful was the Community Cadet Corps, which quickly achieved a membership of more than 800 young people (from a total population of less than 15,000 on the four reserves). Activities focused on military-like drills and marches, martial arts, and community service. A highlight for the group was hosting the RCMP Musical Ride at Hobbema. It was the first time the ride had performed on an Indian reserve, and cadets were recruited to help to care for the horses.