We would love to hear from you.  Be sure to continue your virtual attendance of the Invitational Cree Blessing of the Water Ceremonies by clicking to the next page, “Important Videos”. But before you leave our Contact Page, please take a few minutes to read this amazing account about how healing is happening in Maskwacis below.

“Blood Memory is Saving Hobbema” was written by Michael C. Chettleburgh, CEO of Astwood Strategy Corporation and Author, Young Thugs: Inside the World of Canadian Street Gangs. In November of 2013, the name Hobbema was officically changed to Maskwacis. Click on the page of the Samson Cree website above that describes this historic renaming and reclaiming of this Cree land.



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Blood Memory is Saving Hobbema

Five years ago on April 13, 2008, on an otherwise non-descript Sunday evening in Samson Cree First Nation in Hobbema, Alberta, 23-month old Asia Saddleback was an unintended victim of a gang-related drive-by shooting while enjoying supper with her family.  Thrusting the community into our national consciousness, this senseless crime represented the tipping point in a longstanding fight against the violent street gangs that had infected their community and produced a pervasive sense of fear.

Like other cities such as Toronto, Winnipeg and Surrey that experienced egregious gang violence that crossed over and affected the civilian population that had nothing to do with gangs, Hobbema marshaled its resources and declared, enough is enough; we are taking our community back.

We can now look back and evaluate what has become of the gang problem in Hobbema. It provides a rich source of lessons learned, cautionary tales and, indeed, a great deal of hope for other Aboriginal communities fighting their own thankless wars against criminal street gangs.

Hobbema’s gang intervention playbook has been chock full of intelligent strategies. With the assistance of the remarkable community leader, Roy Louis, the Maskwacis Consulting Group was struck to form a community coalition against gangs. Efforts were made to better engage the RCMP and invigorate their Cadet Corps program which now attracts some 70+ youth each week and teaches them drill, life skills, ceremony and Cree culture. 

Borrowing from the Broken Windows theory, Samson leadership, under Chief Marvin Yellowbird, ordered the demolition of dozens of dilapidated houses in the Samson townsites that were home to gangs and their lucrative trade in crack cocaine. Overgrown brush was removed and new lighting was installed to give gangsters fewer hiding places to conduct their affairs, and the plethora of gang graffiti that demarcated the territory of 13 active crews and their 300+ gangsters was eradicated. And in a move that garnered international attention, a Samson referendum resulted in the approval of a banishment bylaw which, when approved by government, will allow community members to petition for the removal of another member.

The often-maligned RCMP and their 42-member Maskwacis Detachment, capably commanded by Inspector Charles Wood, deserves recognition, too, and perhaps represents one of the best examples of community-based policing in Canada today. Rather than embrace only the get tough trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em approach to gangs, the RCMP is an active member at many community tables.  They participate in the Citizen’s Advisory Group, where Hobbema stakeholders provide guidance to the service in respect to staffing and operational priorities. RCMP Community Response Unit (CRU) implements a range of responses including school-based crime prevention and awareness, victim╒s support, domestic violence intervention, and targeted suppression including street checks and searches for guns directed at priority offenders. Their Community Hub model borrowed from Glasgow, Scotland via Prince Albert RCMP, sees officers meeting monthly with health and social services, child protection, housing, educators and other stakeholders to do intensive case planning and root-cause solution development for families producing a disproportionate amount of drama.

Inspector Wood conceived of the brilliant idea of hosting a respected female and male Elder inside the detachment. With funding from the Alberta Safe Communities Innovation Fund, Elder Lillian Gladue and Richard Lightning keep regular hours in their own office attached to the waiting area of the detachment. While a resource to the entire community, the Elders pay particular attention to addressing the many repeat alcohol and domestic violence related offenders who heretofore have been doing life on the installment plan through a catch-and-release criminal justice system. Through sage counsel, traditional ceremony and connection to services that address the criminogenic needs of offenders, these Elders illustrate the truism that all community members have a role to play in crime prevention.

The trajectory of criminal justice indicators is promising. The population of parasitic gangs has been reduced to four and now comprises approximately 100 young people. Weapons offenses dropped by 39% from 2011 to 2012. From their annual peak of 3,800 prisoners in Hobbema’s lock-up, in 2012 this dropped by 15% to 3,300. And the drive by shootings and Molotov cocktail attacks  - which peaked one month a few years ago at a staggering 137 - have slowed to a mere trickle.

A forceful repudiation of the Stop Snitchin culture is also evident in Hobbema, underlining a new police/community partnership based on mutual trust and respect.  On February 2, 2013, sixteen-year old Levone Baptiste was murdered in Hobbema, with the RCMP solving the case with unprecedented community support and witness testimony - less than a week later when they issued a Canada-wide warrant for Lindsey Allen Bruno, arrested on February 26 in Hobbema.

However, what can be readily distilled into numbers or codified in a strategic plan may be Hobbema most significant change agent, one that has been there all along, indeed for centuries, like diamonds in their backyards.

The Maskwacis Cree or the Bear Hills People of Hobbema, hold dear to them several core values, perhaps the most important being Wahkotiwin kinship. For the Maskwacis Cree, this notion can be encapsulated in the phrase Blood Memory, their ancestral connection to their rich culture, spirituality, ceremony, teachings, language and other core values such Kisewatisiwin (compassion), Akamemohwin (keep trying) and Iyisahowin (patience). This is the collective unconscious of the Plains Cree, derived from their 5,000 year journey as First Peoples on lands we now call Western Canada.

Blood memory may very well be the key to Hobbema success. Wahkotiwin is seen in the adoption of Elders within the RCMP detachment and their re-emergence in the community, no longer too scared to leave their homes for fear of being caught up in gang crossfire. It is seen in the dusting off of traditional coming of age ceremonies, led by Hobbema Elders, where young girls and boys entering adolescence retreat to the bush to spend four days with same sex Elders who teach them how to be great Cree women and men of purpose and integrity. It is seen in the increasing frequency of restorative justice processes that seek to heal, rather than simply punish. And it is seen in the colourful tribal artwork that residents have painted on the exterior of their homes, where once ugly graffiti stood. Traditional Cree ways, practices and traditions are healing, and restoring to the people of Hobbema hope, pride and safety.

It would be folly to suggest that Hobbema has won the war against gangs, that somehow they can repatriate these resources to more productive purpose. Hobbema’s gang woes were decades in the making, and so will be decades in the solving. Such is the nature of this challenging enterprise, one rooted in significant social issues but demonstrated through criminal justice metrics.  Long term and permanent change requires the Plains Cree people to continue to heal from the inside out, and address the pervasive issues that still exist including addictions, overcrowding, lack of employment, persistent lateral violence and historical trauma arising from colonization, Canada╒s shameful Residential School experiment and decades of discriminatory practices enshrined in the Indian Act.

The gang abatement work by the RCMP has paid big dividends for the community. However, one would be remiss to not confront the largely zero sum gain of targeted gang suppression. When the local constabulary make it difficult for young gangsters to conduct their roughshod affairs, some exit the lifestyle but most just get out of Dodge and find less suffocating environments. Hobbema gain is another community loss - the dirty little secret of gang suppression. When police in Edmonton and Calgary seek the counsel of Hobbema RCMP staff, we know that the whack-a-mole nature of gang suppression may not, in the aggregate, be achieving its intended purpose.

Perhaps Mother Teresa diagnosed the world problems most accurately when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” By embracing Wahkotiwin their Blood Memory Hobbema wonderful people have rediscovered kinship and that the marriage of community response with culture is the key to mitigating the virus of criminal street gangs.

Michael C. Chettleburgh, CEO of Astwood Strategy Corporation and Author, Young Thugs: Inside the World of Canadian Street Gangs.

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Read the Press Release about the Official Name Change to Maskwacis (Bear Hills) in place of Hobbema on the Samson Cree Website