In a brutal July 4 incident, Chisasibi resident Edward Bearskin was savagely beaten by a group of nine young men, including five under 17, while walking home from work. The Chisasibi police station has confirmed that alcohol was a factor.
The attackers used pieces of lumber to pummel him repeatedly, rendering him almost unconscious. “It just happened out of nowhere as I was trying to walk away, they just wouldn’t stop,” said Bearskin.
Bearskin remembers the group of apparently intoxicated teens and young men trying to talk to him as he walked by. He does admit though that after receiving a massive blow to the head he does not remember much. He was not robbed, nor did there seem to be any other motivation for the incident.
After being attacked for approximately two minutes, Bearskin’s next recollection was that of a neighborhood friend calling the police.
“Thank god for him as had it not been for him I really don’t know what would have happened to me,” said Bearskin.
According to Robert Shem, assistant director of the Chisisbi police force, police were first notified by a call at 10:40 a.m. from an unidentified female who reported that a “gang” was beating a man who was lying on the ground. Chisasibi police say they would like the woman who placed the 911 call to come forward and provide more details on the crime.
Bearskin was medivaced to Montreal, where he underwent surgery to repair a broken nose, damage to his left eye and a broken bone beneath his left eye. He remained in hospital for over two weeks.
All nine of the alleged attackers have been arrested and charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. Though the names of the youths were not released, the accused adults are Wendel Sam, Harry Sam, Nathan Sam and Shawn Pachanos, men who Bearskin said are known in the community as the “Sam Gang.”
“None of them had priors but they were all known to the police,” said Shem.
Both Shem and Bearskin attested to how swarming attacks of random individuals are on the rise. They say some individuals may be reluctant to report them.
“I have seen this kind of thing happen a few times in the last year, but it was not the same people,” said Shem.
Noting the prevalence of swarming attacks by youths, both in the Cree communities and across Canada, Bearskin fears that the local incidents could escalate to extremes such as in the case of 14-year-old Victoria, BC, resident Reena Virk, who was beaten and drowned by a group of teenaged girls in 1997.
Chisasibi Chief Roderick Pachano agrees that youth violence is a major issue that the community is trying to tackle. He said its roots are founded in the recent history of the Crees between the latent effects of the residential school system, colonization and massive development.
Pachano said he hadn’t yet encountered this level of violence between Crees and believes that the “glamorization and glorification” of gang life in the media is partially to blame for growing youth violence in the communities.
Though violence has always existed in the communities, said Pachano, “When I was growing up it wasn’t like this. We used to have fights but it wasn’t like this.”
After almost having lost his left eye, Bearskin said that he would most likely have a 100 per cent recovery. Doctors caution him however that he may suffer some long-term effects to his vision as a result of the attack.
Bearskin was returned to Chisasibi on July 23. More than anything he was looking forward to seeing his little girl who he missed terribly and is not yet two years old.