Mistissini is actively working to curb youth violence and vandalism. At a community meeting on January 23 these two issues were the hot topics of the evening.
A look at just the Cree School Board shows how much vandalism costs this community of fewer than 4,000 people. In 2007, it cost $80,000 exactly double the amount of $40,000 in 2006, which had risen from $25,000 in 2005.
The CSB estimates it paid about $210,000 to repair school windows, residences, staff and teacher vehicles and other damage in the past years.
The skyrocketing costs have the community wondering why there is an increase in vandalism. And people are now beginning to ask where the responsibility for these costs should be placed.
A look at how Mistissini is dealing with the problems shows the community is ready to implement concrete solutions. Mistissini has not only looked at the present situation but is looking to create a brighter future for all. They have clearly defined goals, objectives and actions.
An exercise at a meeting held late last year helped define what kind of community that residents wanted Mistissini to be in 15 years. It was looked at from a Cree point of view and what aspects of Cree culture and ways of life should be enhanced and preserved.
In the past it was said that people visited each other and this would once again be a main part of the community life. Sharing was an aspect that they would like to see continue, where adults would not be afraid to reach out and care for children in distress.
As well, adults would not be afraid to set limits for other people’s children. Child rearing was seen as a community effort in the past and children should not be afraid to ask for help. Elders will get back their roles as guides and they will know exactly how to help.
This healthier future would lessen the urge to turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms like alcohol, gambling, drugs or suicide. There would also be a decrease in using violence to resolve conflicts.
The goals set would see youth feeling valued and having a place in the community. Community members would have a sense of ownership and belonging in regards to all aspects of the community whether it is physical, economic or social.
It is recognized that the process to achieve these goals must be community-based and driven, have regional support and be culturally appropriate.
Politicians must provide full support to a community-wide intervention. They must also commit to establishing a facility like a drop-in centre, where healers would be available. This will be in the first-year request, along with a demand for a full time psychologist at the school and for the community.
It was said that it is time to assess safety strategies such as curfews and regulations regarding guns and alcohol.
Already Mistissini is planning to prioritize social issues. A committee has been set up to coordinate mental-health services. As well the process to attain a building for wellness workers (healer helpers) has been started.
Work is being done to complete the existing suicide postvention protocols. As well, residents were told the Community Action Group is to be maintained and nurtured.
It was said that local police have debriefing services both in and out of the community. As they are frontline workers they have special needs and maintaining them in this manner will lead to better team integration. It will also be more cost effective than having to train a new member because one has to be replaced through burnout.
Teachers too would get support and specific training concerning bullying and the effects of trauma on students.
It was said that the community must be prepared and ready to change. In order to do this a door-to-door survey is being prepared. It was recognized that some may question the validity of doing yet another survey.
People were told this survey would tell the community how to best use the existing resources. In other words, it would take some of the guesswork out of planning and help match services with needs. It would increase accountability and give members community ownership of the future of Mistissini. It would empower individuals and allow them to voice their concerns in a safe environment (their home).
Thus, the purpose of the survey would be twofold, because even as it obtains information it will inform people on the various services available in Mistissini. Along with the survey, a crisis hotline would be developed and implemented.
Elders are expected to be an important part of the process. Mistissini plans to hold a forum at which community Elders can gather and share their knowledge. They will impart their understanding of common Cree values and develop strategies to bridge the gap between youth and Elders. They will look at ways to pass on their knowledge to others in both traditional and other settings. For example, Elders are involved in the school and interacting with the youth.
In March 2008, training will begin on non-violent intervention strategies and then be repeated every two months. This will not only be for health care workers but will include young offenders, school personal, counselors, teachers and social workers, among others.
Many helpful suggestions have come out of meetings in Mistissini and were presented to the members. Suggestions for decreasing the possibility of violence and vandalism and preventive measures included:
Local residents talked about the installation of alarm systems and other security devices, fencing for public buildings, hiring of more security guards during vacation periods, and installing special security windows. A need was mentioned for proper lighting at street corners where youth hang out.
Police and Entities
Residents want to set up a patrol system that would include more than just the police. They have expressed a desire get the drug and alcohol pushers out of the community. One community member told the Nation, “We know who they are. We have to put pressure on them. Maybe even exile them for some time. We all need to work with the police on this.”
His words echoed earlier meetings that said Mistissini has to deal with the root of the problem – drugs and alcohol – and the community has to work together to dismantle the gangs in the community.
During the January 23 meeting, one presenter, Bella M. Petawabino, director of the Awash Team for the CBHSS, said there are four distinct gangs in Mistissini. She also suggested revamping a local drug-and-alcohol program that is culturally relevant to the Cree way of life.
Some ideas were drawn from southern communities, such as setting up a neighborhood watch, a Cadets program for youth, security management with training as to provide support for the police. Street workers could also be hired to patrol the streets at night in Mistissini. These workers would be trained in CPR, first aid and other survival skills. It was suggested that small discussion groups be formed to address different aspects of vandalism and violence.
It was strongly mentioned that parents have to take responsibility to discipline children and take control over them. It was suggested that if the parents do not want to take a role in disciplining their children, then it is anybody’s role to take the responsibility to correct the child if the child is misbehaving, disrespectful or bullying.
Children should learn from their parents, parents should talk to their children, said another. One youth from another community told the Nation later the biggest problem, he felt, was the lack of parenting. “You can blame the drugs, the alcohol, guns or whatever but it comes down to what the children see in their parents and what values the parents have instilled in them,” he said.
He mentioned there were gaps in parenting skills due to residential school but there are solutions. In the meeting one member said there should be parental workshops in the community to help people regain those skills and others.
Some tough love was needed with a suggestion the community ensure there are consequences for youth who vandalize. An example of this was giving the offenders community work with distinctive clothing to show they are in trouble and doing the work because of it. With the community service idea it was said parents should be obligated to pay when their child or children are responsible for vandalizing a building, writing graffiti or break windows.
There had to be more parental support for school and teachers. Along with this would be regular meetings with parents on vandalism, bullying and the importance of having their children go to school on time and be fed before they arrive there.
Suggestions continued as the community came together with people saying parents shouldn’t get overly defensive when it comes to their children. They said parents should listen to both sides of the story. When this doesn’t happen it becomes one of the reasons why children don’t listen and are disrespectful of others. It was stressed that the community has to break the cycle and that children should not have to encounter what parents had to endure in the past. Parents need to spend quality time with their children. Then they will have a sense of belonging and respect rules that will make them better community members. It was said parents should teach children good morals at an early age as then they will be instilled in them always.
People said parents should take children with them when they go out of the community or attend religious gatherings. Children who are left alone are more likely to get into trouble.
Some members wanted more supervised activities for youth that would include setting up activity workshops, programs and services for the youth (i.e., film, arts, theatre, radio programs, Brownies, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides) adapted to Cree culture.
Because of the numbers of youth wandering the streets late at night it was felt the curfew by-law has be enforced and the siren to indicate the curfew would be reactivated. Parents would assist by taking their children home after the siren is sounded if they are not already there.
The whole community
It was noted that parents who needed to hear what was being discussed weren’t coming to the meetings and a way had to be found to bring them to the meetings.
“We need to raise awareness among parents and other members to take responsibility for their children and teach them to be responsible members of Mistissini,” said a resident.
At the meeting on January 23 the band said they now need direction from the community to achieve these objectives.