By Slav Kornik and Emily Mertz
EDMONTON – The federal government has donated nearly $3 million ($2,895,321) in funding for a new prevention project targeting gang violence in the First Nation communities of Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin First Nation, Louis Bull First Nation and Montana First Nation.
“It builds on the momentum that’s already there – that’s resulted from some of the tragic events that have happened in the past – some shootings and some gang violence,” explained Blaine Calkins, MP for Wetaskiwin.
“There’s a lot of good people here working hard for their community and doing good things.”
The Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema) Conflict Resolution Program, run by the Samson Cree Nation, will work with approximately 600 aboriginal youth, who are either gang members or at risk of becoming gang members.
“Dealing with it internally,” explained Mario Swampy, a Samson Cree Nation Councillor, “getting our nation members to address this problem head-on as opposed to expecting someone to come in from the outside to address this problem for us.”
The federal government says the project will help youth make smart choices and avoid involvement in criminal activity by promoting community involvement, education and employment skills, and counselling programs.
“I believe the community is tired,” said Swampy, “tired of what we’ve been known for… a lot of negativity… We want to be a nation that has strong members and is healthy, and is thriving.”
“Along with our partners, we are taking steps to tackle gang violence, while providing at-risk youth with the tools and opportunities to steer clear of crime,” said Calkins.
“Conflict resolution programs provide a form of justice which holds offenders accountable to the community and lets victims of crime be involved. This program also provides greater accessibility to the justice system,” said Jonathan Denis, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
Maskwacis is located 100 kilometers south of Edmonton.