Desperate times have prevailed so long among the Samson Cree that desperate measures were arguably overdue. But a proposal by Hobbema, Alta.’s largest First Nation to “evict” gang members has neighbouring Aboriginal bands worried, as critics wonder whether banished troublemakers will simply move a few hundred metres down the road, and start causing havoc all over again.
Members of the Samson Cree were to vote Wednesday in a referendum on the bylaw, which would allow any 25 residents of their community to apply to have another evicted. If the person in question was not a band member, a “residency tribunal” would make the decision. While commanders at Hobbema’s RCMP detachment supported the measures, three other nations in and around the central Alberta town—the Ermineskin Cree, the Louis Bull Tribe and the Montana First Nation—said it was a formula for passing ne’er-do-wells from one troubled native community to the next.
Few would disagree, though, that some new and drastic action is needed around Hobbema, a town located amid four native reserves about 95 km south of Edmonton. Afflicted by alcoholism, financial corruption and more recently by drug gangs, the area is a perennial staging ground for crime and sorrow. The 7,000-strong Samson Cree First Nation has been the scene of nine unsolved homicides in the last five years, while losing 49 homes to arson. This week, a resident of the reserve was sentenced to five years in prison for a drive-by shooting in April 2010 that nearly claimed the life of a 22-year-old woman. A 30-year-old woman was charged with murder after a New Year’s Eve stabbing that claimed the life of a 34-year-old man.
Banishment would seem a blunt instrument in the face of such deep-rooted problems. Yet some residents applaud the band’s decisiveness. Theresia Boysis, a 65-year-old band member who bars her door with a knife handle and keeps a nighttime vigil beside her police scanner, recently told the CBC that parents on the reserve are afraid to let their children outside to play. “It is just getting to the point where we need to do something drastic,” she said.