Native community hopes to curb youth violence with cadet corps

With children as young as 10 involved in gang activity and drive- by shootings becoming frighteningly commonplace, aboriginal leaders on Alberta's Hobbema reserve went looking for a way to stem the violence.
They are hoping a cadet program will be the answer.

“This has gone beyond our control and we need help,” said Mel Buffalo, spokesman for the Samson Cree Nation, one of four bands which live in Hobbema, south of Edmonton.
Officers policing the community of 12,000 have a caseload that is a staggering 3.5 times the national average, including a sizable amount of youth crime.
Although many might think a program with mandatory uniforms and honour- bound activities would be viewed as too geeky to attract teen interest, that's not so.
It got an enthusiastic response from teens when pitched to Hobbema high school students in June. About 30 kids have signed up for the Community Cadet Corps program, which is expected to begin in the fall once volunteer leaders are trained.

“A lot of them were saying 'When do we get started?' ” said Const. Darrel Bruno of the Hobbema RCMP.
Bruno says kids in broken families are easy targets for gang leaders looking to recruit children as young as 10 to run drugs because they are out of range of the law — at least until they turn 12.
“They're looking for acceptance from somewhere, and if they're not getting it at home they'll get it somewhere else,” said Bruno.
RCMP Cpl. Rick Sanderson, who created the Community Cadet Corps in Saskatchewan in 1996, says Hobbema is not alone in its struggle.
“We actually have kids here in Regina who will brag about how many cars they stole: to them that's a badge of honour to make themselves look better,” said Sanderson, whose Cree heritage was key in establishing the parameters of the program.
“We have to reach these kids before they get involved with crime,” he said.

Sanderson started the corps in Carry the Kettle reserve near Regina after an elder came to him seeking help when her grandson got in trouble with the law.
“I want these kids to be proud of themselves for something positive,” Sanderson said from Regina, where he's part of the aboriginal policing unit. “That could be getting their first-aid certificate or being involved in a sports program.”
Sanderson says that when he began the corps he was able to attract some of the leaders of a loose-knit gang and channel their energy into more constructive ventures.
“It's my feeling that these kids want a chance to lead, they want recognition,” he said. “Unfortunately we have home situations where these kids don't get a chance to be heard or seen as someone important. They want a family and that's what cadet corps is: a family.”
The paramilitary organization hones leadership skills, teaches self- defence including use of firearms, requires regular school attendance and a set amount of community service. It's aimed at youth aged 12 to 18.

In the past, reserves involved with the program across Western Canada have seen their crime rates drop by up to 50 per cent, while cadets have seen their school marks rise.
“One of my biggest payoffs is when I can walk through the First Nations University in Regina and see a bunch of my former cadets in university,” said Sanderson.
Buffalo says only a tiny minority of Hobbema's youth are involved with drugs and gang activity, but the frequency of violent incidents has many residents worried for their safety.

In May, a teenage girl was charged with second-degree murder after a 30- year-old man was beaten to death by a group of young people brandishing bats, boards and a sword.
In recent weeks, a turf war between rival gangs has resulted in a marked escalation in violence, home invasions and gunfire. One girl narrowly escaped injury when a bullet came through her window and embedded itself in her mattress, and a 17-year-old boy was shot in the shoulder in a gang- related incident.
“It almost seems like a rite of passage,” said Buffalo, frustration evident in his voice. “It seems for young persons in this community the only way to survive is to get involved with gangs, and that shouldn't be.”
Sanderson says the cadet corps offers a support network to kids facing a troubled future.

“For a kid to say 'I want to be doctor, I want to work hard at school and stay out of trouble,' that's way beyond the world they live in,” he said. “It takes a pretty brave person to say 'I don't agree with your drinking or your gang stuff.' With the cadet corps, everyone has a common goal of making something of themselves.”
There is obviously a demand. At one point, there were 1,200 young people involved in the corps in Saskatchewan. But a lack of funding has reduced the number to 200. Calls for Sanderson's expertise have come from across Canada.
Buffalo is hopeful that establishing the cadet program in Hobbema could eventually lead to an aboriginal police force. But he concedes that's far down the road, and now it's just one small step in fixing the many social problems on the reserve.

“One just stops the bleeding,” he said. “There's a whole list of things that need to be done: courts, policing, the social system, the child safety net ... I could go on and on.”

Judy Monchuk
27 August 2005

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