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La Loche Shooting: A Look At The Community

01/24/2016 10:01 EST | Updated 01/24/2017 05:12 EST
LA LOCHE, Sask. — La Loche is a community with roots that date back before the fur trade, but in recent years its mostly aboriginal population has faced conflict between the traditional lives of trappers and modern industries like mining.

Aboriginal peoples had traversed the area near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border for generations, according to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, but it says the origins of La Loche began with the arrival of fur traders and, later, missionaries.

La Loche, which is French for burbot, a variety of freshwater cod, has struggled with unemployment since the fur trade has waned.

And now the community of about 3,000 is in the headlines for the most tragic of events — a mass shooting at a school and home that has left four dead and seven injured. 

la loche school La Loche Community School, one of the scenes of a mass shooting in the northern Dene community. (Photo: Google Street View)

Young, aboriginal population

Over 90 per cent of the region's population self-identify as aboriginal, the Keewatin Yatthe Regional Health Authority said in its 2014-15 annual report.

The report also noted population in the region remained young, with 27 per cent less than 15 years of age and only seven per cent over 65.

There's one road from the south and most of the year, it's a six-hour drive to Prince Albert. A second road leads to Fort McMurray, Alta., but it crosses ice and is only available in winter.

A report from the area's health region in 2007-08 noted that the sprawling geographic region in the province's northwest had a suicide rate that was three times the Saskatchewan average.

la loche shooting The community of about 3,000 is in the headlines for the most tragic of events. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)

Suicide prevention

Premier Brad Wall told a news conference on Saturday that suicide prevention programs were started for affected communities by the previous government and continued by his own.

"There's a suicide prevention initiative specifically that government has moved on since we have been witness to some very terrible numbers with respect especially youth suicides," Wall said.

"It's an ongoing effort on the part of government and the communities themselves."

brad wall Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. (Photo: CP)

Mining vs. trapping

Companies drilling for minerals, oil or uranium represent hope for some in the community. But others, such as the Northern Trappers Alliance, feel industrial activities have degraded the land and water and animal populations are decreasing.

In late 2014, the group blockaded a gravel road near La Loche to stop vehicles from exploration companies from passing. Tensions rose between those who supported development and those who don't.

Candyce Paul, a spokeswoman for the trappers, said they "don't want any more toxic development."

But Georgina Jolibois, who was mayor of La Loche at the time and is now the area's MP, reacted to the blockade by saying that companies tried to accommodate trappers. She noted that she, herself, grew up on the trap lines and didn't think there was much support for the group's actions.

la loche shooting La Loche Mayor Kevin Janvier and former mayor Georgina Jolibois hug after speaking to reporters. (Photo: CP)

A remote community

The remoteness brings challenges. But it can also bring people closer together, and the school that was the scene of two of the four shooting deaths on Friday was a centre of La Loche activity.

The school's Facebook page includes posts about the Grade 1 ski club, a student-made, Star Wars-themed bulletin board for a family reading picnic, and a graduate who's been featured on the Saskatchewan Polytechnic website.

"Our entire school and school division community are in shock and in mourning after the tragic events in La Loche," the Northern Lights School Division posted on the Facebook page following Friday's tragedy.

"Our hearts are broken for each of the victims and their families and for all the students and staff at the La Loche Community School."

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