The community of Nemaska was reeling after children gained access to firearms and shot at a school and private residences.
The incident occurred around 8 pm October 12. The alleged perpetrators apprehended by local police cannot be named because of their ages – 12, 12 and 11.
According to Nemaska Chief Clarence Jolly, the kids broke into an unoccupied home, pried open a gun cabinet, and made off with the guns and ammunition inside.
“They shot up the school and a couple of private residences and pointed the firearms at some of their friends they were with and fortunately no one was hurt. The police intervened and diffused the situation,” said Chief Jolly.
The École Luke Mettaweskum School was closed October 13-16 after the shooting. The Cree School Board issued a statement saying, “The gravity of the event will not be ignored. We are working closely with the Eeyou Eenou Police Force regarding this matter. We are asking for everyone’s vigilance and cooperation at this time.”
One of the residents whose house was shot at spoke out anonymously about the impacts of the incident, saying his mother narrowly escaped being shot.
“It was a long day, I came from the bush to tell my parents that I caught a moose,” recalled the resident. “I had been down south and after all these years it was a happy moment.”
His parents and brother were in the kitchen preparing Thanksgiving dinner when they heard what he initially thought were pellet shots. They looked around, thinking it may have been a dropped dish, but discovered a hole in the wall. There was dust on the table, and wall insulation scattered from the bullet hole.
He realized then that a .22 calibre bullet had penetrated a wall in the house.
“It would have hit my mom if she was still standing there,” he explained. “She moved a few seconds before, just in time. I remember she was standing there; she went to get another powder for the turkey sauce.”
Panic set in – he describes urging his mother to get away from the windows in case of more shooting. “You don’t expect to get shot at,” he commented.
After calling police to report the incident, he talked to children who were outside the house. They told him that the armed group of kids had pointed the weapons at them and told them to empty their pockets.
After the kids ran away, the police were able to recover the guns.
The Nemaska resident said the incident shows the need for better gun-safety practices.
“Something needs to be done with these guns,” he insisted. “Kids shouldn’t have access to these guns, they shouldn’t have the bullets.”
He pointed to a lack of activities and programming for youth in the community, noting that children are turning to drugs.
“It’s not just our community, it’s a lot of youth that need help,” he observed. “Our communities need help, they need programs. They need to step up and do it together. Look at what happened – why were these kids neglected? They broke into an abandoned house with guns. This could have been avoided, but we need help.”
He has suffered nightmares stemming from the incident, he says, and now hugs his mom every time he sees her.
“We realize that we have to assess the programming we have in our community for our kids and youth,” Chief Jolly acknowledged, referring to existing hockey and broomball programs, as well as the fitness centre and pool in the sports complex. “We should try and keep our kids and youth occupied,”
At the same time, he added, “We want to have parents involved as well, with family-oriented activities. Parents need to spend quality time with their kids.”
Jolly agrees that it’s important to raise awareness about safe firearm storage, while also educating youth about the consequences of firearm misuse and how easily people can get hurt. He suggested the community undertake a firearm inventory so that proper gun cabinets can be provided to homes that lack them. He suggested residents who leave the community for any duration secure their weapons and ammunition with the public safety department or at the police station.
“We have these firearms incidents maybe once every 10 years,” Jolly observed. “Every time, it’s a shock to our small community. They’re not toys, but tools for our Cree customs, to be able to hunt and bring home food.”