Sunday, January 24, 2016

Remembering La Loche

Friday was a travel day for me so after nearly 12 hours on a bus to Calgary I was  a bit blurry-eyed when I checked in to my hotel.  It was there I happened to pass by a television in the hotel lobby and hear about a shooting in Saskatchewan.  Initially, it didn't really register.  After checking in to my room, I returned again to the news and was snapped awake instantly upon hearing that this shooting had taken place in a place I was familiar with.

In the early 2000's I lived in La Loche where I taught grade 6 and while I didn't work at Dene High School, it's a place I had been in many times as I knew quite a few of the staff there.  Events like what Friday really hit me like a cold shower.  Your blood just runs cold.  Automatically I started thinking if it involved anyone I knew.   Given the passage of time since I worked there, I can't answer that question with any degree of certainly.    The students I taught would have long since graduated.  I still keep in touch on Facebook with a handful of former staff I used to work with and sadly, one former colleague of mine did have one of the victims as a student at one point.  Another one of the victims lived a couple of hours away from where I grew up in Ontario.

Some of my best teaching memories are from La Loche.  Unfortunately, due to the actions of one messed up individual an entire community will be painted with the same broad brush.   I've worked in  enough First Nations and Inuit communities to know about the challenges involved.  I've also become too well aware of what some people will no doubt think and say in the aftermath of this tragic event.....and too often it isn't complementary.  And yet, I know how very difficult it can be to truly put in to words what you might feel.  After all, what can you say?

Schools are a place where one should feel safe.  Tragically, four lives ended Friday in a place where they should have felt secure.  It's easy to play the blame game here and I could easily go off on a tangent about my thoughts on why the school system often doesn't live up to students' needs (as those who know me best well know).  This however, is neither the time nor place for that.  I do think that we need a very frank and honest discussion in this country about the role of education in aboriginal communities and I'll leave it at that.

I wish I could say that this is all new to me and that I haven't seen my fair share of tragic events in northern, isolated communities.  So yes, this all hits close to my heart and it does sting.  It can be very difficult to speak out in a small community where everyone knows everyone and news often travels just as fast as on social media.  I don't know how things will turn out or how events will unfold in the coming days but if I've managed to pass along to my students the courage to be true to themselves and to stand up for their community during the time I was there then I know that La Loche will come together during this trying time.  My thoughts and prayers are very much with the victims of this tragedy and the community of La Loche this evening.

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