COLD LAKE – The safety of their members is a top priority for the chief and council of Cold Lake First Nations (CLFN) and they’ve taken a hard stance against those who continually participate in criminal activity within the community.
In an April 20 announcement, chief and council said eviction notices and warning letters would be issued in accordance with the CLFN’s Trespassing, Public Safety, and Order Bylaw to any residents living in band houses who repeatedly engage in criminal activity and compromise the safety and integrity of the community.
“The crime in our community has come to a breaking point as drug activity, violence, and dangerous car chases have become all too common,” noted Chief Roger Marten in the press release. “We have heard the concerns of our members loud and clear.”
Coun. Travis Matchatis explained the decision was made after they were approached by elders after members noticed an increase in those breaking the law within the First Nation.
“The safety of our members has always been a top priority for our leadership,” he told Lakeland This Week. "In the past couple of years, we have seen a spike in criminal activity, whether that’s drug-related, high speed vehicle pursuits, theft, and so on. This activity has put the rest of our community at risk. Elders from the nation approached our council and asked if there was something that could be done immediately to protect our people. Not only for today, but for our future generations. When our elders take the time to speak to us about a specific issue like this, we as leaders, it’s our responsibility to listen and to act.”
The activity touches everyone who lives in the Nation, Matchatis stressed. The message these eviction notices and warnings say to people is "enough is enough."
“I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life and we all see it. We all feel the impact and how the drugs, alcohol, and drug dealers come onto the reserve. We all see this and it impacts, not just the people that are doing the drugs, it impacts the families, elders, and pretty much everybody on the Nation.”
CLFN is working closely with the Cold Lake RCMP to ensure the identified offenders are served notices safely and expeditiously.
“We’re happy to support Chief Marten and the CLFN in their efforts to make their community safer,” expressed Cold Lake RCMP Sgt. Ryan Howrish.
According to Matchatis, those that are evicted from their homes are encouraged to reach out for assistance that could help them.
“We recognize that there may be underlying issues at play and that many of these individuals who require addiction and mental health support,” he detailed. “We have these supports available to them through our family community supports services and health departments. The actions that we are taking is first and foremost about protecting our community and members at large.”
Matchatis went on to say that council will never abandon their people and will always be there to protect them and connect them with the help they need, however, they need to protect those within the community that are put at risk whenever crime happens.
Previously evicted residents who continue to engage in prohibited activities on CLFN land will be deemed trespassers and may face permanent banishment from all CLFN lands and associated property.
Along with protecting their community, showing youth and the younger generations that this type of behaviour won’t be tolerated was a reason Matchatis said council moved ahead with the initiative.
“The next group of people coming up are going to be our future. Our future leaders. Those who are going to carry the torch for us in the future. These people need to be protected."
He added, “We’re just trying to open the eyes of future generations. People that might want to go down the path of dealing drugs and things like that, chief and council aren’t going to put up with it anymore. Neither are our elders and the people. The people need to be protected. That’s why we were voted here, is to protect. Our job is to create a better lifestyle here on the Nation.”
The issues CLFN is facing aren’t unique to the area. Matchatis said all First Nations communities are struggling with similar problems and he hopes they can come together to support one another to address them.
“We need to try and work together.”