Saskatchewan RCMP Face Violence In First Nations Communities

By Lloyd Dolha

A 19-year-old Cree man from the Red Earth First Nation in northeastern Saskatchewan is facing a charge of attempted murder following an alleged shooting involving RCMP officers on October 5th, 2011. RCMP of the Carrot River detachment announced the attempted murder charge along with a weapons charge the following day. Three other men arrested along with the shooting suspect were released and not charged.

Police said the Carrot River detachment members were driving on the Red Earth First Nation reserve (northeast of Saskatoon) early that morning responding to a call about shots being fired in the area. They reported that around 1:20 AM, they approached a small group in a marked police vehicle and were shot at. Their front windshield was shattered. It is not known how many shots were fired, but police were not injured in the incident. Police said officers returned fire. The incident led to a stand off at a home on the reserve that ended peacefully just before noon. Local residents said a SWAT vehicle arrived at the house followed by ten police cars. Davis Demery Lester Whitehead has been charged with attempted murder and a weapons charge. He has appeared in court and was ordered to remain in custody.

Police said local leaders helped in the negotiations, mentioning the band’s vice-chief, some council members, and one elder. “All were present during the negotiations, and the RCMP is greatly appreciative for their involvement in the peaceful resolution of this incident,” said police in a news release, adding that a shotgun had been removed from the home. Red Earth First Nation Chief Ian Mckay said a tragedy had been averted. “We are thankful the RCMP waited as we deployed our own support systems to assist the efforts for a peaceful resolution without further incident,” said Chief Mckay in a statement. “The incident is a symptom of a much larger problem. Our community struggles with real socio-economic issues similar to other communities, such as high unemployment rates, health issues, poor housing conditions, and limited opportunities for our youth.”

The shooting comes on the heels of an incident at La Loche in northwestern Saskatchewan, where RCMP were forced to barricade themselves in a hospital as an angry mob of about 70 people torched a police truck and damaged an ambulance after two officers tried to pull over two ATVs. One of the drivers rolled his ATV into a ditch and was injured. Deano LaPrise, Fabian LaPrise, and Randall LaPrise were charged with arson, mischief, obstruction, assaulting a peace officer with a weapon, and participating in a riot.

Saskatchewan’s top RCMP official said the incidents were isolated and not indicative of the overall relationship between Aboriginals and police. “In terms of these two events particularly, I just want to say unequivocally that these are not an indicator of an escalation of violence, if you will, against our members here in Saskatchewan,” assistant commissioner Russ Mirasty told the press. Chief Mckay and his council will hold a community membership meeting with the RCMP, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), the Council of Prince Albert, and the federal government to address the issues. “It would be irresponsible for chief and council to dismiss the incident and pretend everything is alright. Our community needs support from within and throughout our affiliates and governments,” said the chief. “Our young people need support to come to terms with what happened. All people need to feel safe.”