Little Pine and Poundmaker First Nations hope this week's two-day forum about drugs and gangs will help reduce crime and make Indigenous communities and the Battlefords area safer.
Today's workshop focused on encouraging young people to make healthier choices, as well as look for strategies to avoid danger from and prevent gangs from developing.
The forum which took place at the Dekker Centre was attended by roughly 80 and included expert speakers as well as a representative from the RCMP. Indigenous people on-reserve as well as those living in urban communities are particularly impacted.
Jacob Pete, an Elder and retired police officer, from Little Pine First Nation, facilitated the event.
Pete said Indigenous young people who are vulnerable and unemployed are more at likely to participate in risk-taking behaviour. He added the former residential school system abuses, among other challenges, also continues to have a lasting negative influence on First Nation peoples, making them more at risk.
"The biggest problem now is dependency of some type," he said on the issue of substance abuse affecting the Indigenous community.
Pete added crystal methamphetamine and cocaine in particular are a problem in many communities including Little Pine. Gang influence stemming from the larger city centres is also a concern.
"Those are impacting our community," he said.
Pete said he hopes the conference helps more First Nation peoples return to their traditional and spiritual values, so more First Nations members will start to "re-identify yourself as a proud Aboriginal person."
He also hopes to see similar forums take place in the future.
Pete said admin from Little Pine and Poundmaker First Nations spent two years in community consultations as well as regional meetings involving other area First Nations preparing.
He added the event also coincides with the new team of 20 community safety officers (CSOs) for Poundmaker Cree Nation and Little Pine First Nation completing their program. Many of the members attended the forum Thursday, and will be graduating from their course Friday afternoon. This will be the first group of First Nations CSOs trained for these communities, with Pete calling them "role models for the community."
He said hopefully at the end of the conference the First Nations organizers will be able to develop some recommendations for the future.
Stan Bird, a teacher at Mosquito First Nation, who attended with six of his students, hopes the dialogue will also help inform the youth.
"I don't want them to hear watered-down information," he told battlefordsNOW. "I'd sooner see or have them hear it right from the experts themselves what it is that's going on in the community, so they know the truth — what's really going on out there when it come to gangs and drugs, and the issues that are out in the community."
Bird teaches land-based language and culture to his students and said he encourages youth to learn the traditional lifestyle such as fishing and discover how to live off the land.
"As First Nation people we have the keys to improve our lives," he added.
The forum will continue Friday with a restorative justice discussion.
On Twitter: @battlefordsNOW
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