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Organizer says evictions from Saskatchewan First Nation not working, wants to find deeper issues

illegal drugs

The Onion Lake First Nation is organizing a drugs and gangs summit for local chiefs and the RCMP

Hubert Pahtayken wants to find answers.

A band councillor at Onion Lake First Nation — about 275 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon — Pahtayken used to manage the reserve’s fire, rescue and peacekeepers service. His team went to calls at an alarming rate.

“There were a lot of needless deaths,” he said. “Suicides, [motor vehicle accidents], all gang-related. And then, when I got into leadership, it didn’t slow down. It just escalated.”

Evicting gang members and drug dealers from their houses hasn’t helped, either. Onion Lake has kicked around six people off the First Nation, but the problems have continued.

“All we did was move the problem to another community,” he said. “And then it circles back to us.”

Now, Onion Lake has invited chiefs from eight other First Nations in the area, as well as representatives from the RCMP, to a Tuesday event to develop a strategy. He wants to focus on root causes, rather than punishment.

“Sending them to jail is not the answer,” he said. “You’re sending them to school, basically, to learn more about the drug trade.”

While Tuesday’s event is closed to the public, Pahtayken wants to eventually bring his community into the discussion. First, however, he wants to come up with a solid plan to deal with the problem.

“We’ve been reactive in the past,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to be proactive. Addictions are a medical disease, and we’re trying to deal with the mental health issues.”

Out of 15 deaths on Onion Lake First Nation since January, Pahtayken said six were related to gangs and drugs.