Though the Cree Nation, like any other community, is not immune to violence, the nature of the violence, particularly that involving youth, has taken on a new face as youth-gang activity is on the rise and with it has come a rash of swarming attacks.
In the dead of the summer, two different individuals were randomly attacked by swarms of youths to the extent that they had to be medivaced to Montreal hospitals. First it was Edward Bearskin, who was brutally attacked one morning in Chisasibi by nine young males – five were minors and four adults and some were apparently members of a gang known as the “Sam gang”.
A month later, John Blackned also became the victim of a swarming attack in Nemaska. This time Blackned was attacked by five women and two men. Of the females, two were minors and three were over the age of 18 and the guys, who were also minors, were also alleged gang members.
Both men were brutally beaten with wood 2x 4s and both supposedly had nothing to with their attacks other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At the same time the Nation has been hearing rumours of similar attacks throughout the summer months. Many of them have apparently not been reported to the authorities. Though swarming attacks are not exclusive to the Cree communities and have been documented internationally, they are an emerging reality that will require new strategies, and according to Cree Police Commissioner Ashley Iserhoff, those strategies are in the works.
Though the new police commission will only officially be up and running sometime late in the winter, there are strategies to combat gang violence that are already being used within the communities according to Iserhoff. At that, going on recommendations from external police forces, new strategies will also come into play.
The tactics will not just be a police matter. When it comes to youths and violence, finding solutions will be both familial and community affairs, according to Iserhoff.
“There is going to be a process where we are going to be establishing local police and public-security committees in every community to get people involved and volunteer their time to give us ideas as to what the police can do,” said Iserhoff.
Though it is already happening in some schools, police efforts to go into classrooms to talk to students about drugs, alcohol, violence and “making the right choices” will be stepped up under Iserhoff’s watch.
Though it is difficult in any community to point the finger at one specific cause for these types of random senseless violence, Iserhoff has his own ideas as to why the activity has taken on a new form – media and family.
In his mind, children have been exposed to exponentially more violence in recent years from TV, the Internet and violent videogames. New attitudes are emerging from these forms of entertainment that youth devote endless hours to, particularly the ideology that being in a gang or serving jail time is something to “brag” about.
For as much as youth violence is a universal issue, as far as Iserhoff was concerned, these recent swarming attacks and acts of gang violence go against Cree fundamentals.
“That way of life is being disrespectful towards the way our grandparents raised our parents and how our people raised each other,” said Iserhoff.
Whereas it’s one thing to condemn the violence, Iserhoff is looking for families to take more responsibility for their children to keep them from getting into trouble in the first place.
“Every mother and father has a responsibility to take care of their kids, it’s mind-boggling that sometimes when you are in the communities you see eight, nine and ten year-olds roaming around at 10:30pm,” said Iserhoff.
Though he himself does not have children, youth violence is a particularly sensitive issue for Iserhoff and an area that he will be focusing on a great deal as it touches his own heart. As a child he experienced what it was like to be the victim of other youths, having been bullied to the extent that he left the Cree communities to attend school in Montreal.
Though, in his own case, things turned out positively in the end, Iserhoff recognizes that the vast majority of Cree kids do not have the option of simply relocating when they find themselves either victim to or involved with a violent movement at the hands of their peers.
Still, despite the recent bout of violent acts, Iserhoff is feeling positive that it is not too late to break the cycle of youth violence and gang-related incidents in the communities.
“The most interesting thing that comes to my mind is that our communities are very small compared to places I have been to and we are in a situation where we can change things now instead of letting it continue. The violent acts that took place, we can change all of that,” said Iserhoff.