The northern community of La Loche was hit with a tragic blow of immense proportions on Jan. 22. During a school shooting, four people lost their lives and several were seriously injured. It was an incident that had traumatizing effects for a community that already deals with marginalization and its effects. It is also a remote community, far from the urban centers in Saskatchewan and one that ultimately had to do much healing on its own.
In the aftermath of the shootings, politicians rushed to the community for photo-ops. Canadian society rushed to conclusions as to how or why such an incident could occur. Some found ways to blame La Loche, others found ways to pity the community. But for the people of La Loche, there was only the stark reality of dealing with such an immense loss with very little outside help.
It was in the midst of this trauma and grief that the members of the Education Sector and SGEU broadly stood up to offer help in the form of a significant financial donation.
Ultimately, the vibrant cultures existing in La Loche provided the template for healing through feasts, wakes, ceremonies and community gatherings. Donating to these activities provided material support that helped make these activities come to fruition. The financial contribution given by the sector and the union was an example of what the support of an ally looks like. It did not come with blame, or strings. It was given to the community to use in whatever way the community decided would make the most impact towards healing.
During that week of wakes, funerals, and ceremony, the people of La Loche knew a powerful truth; that whether they were Dene or Cree, Metis or non-Indigenous, unionized or non-unionized, that the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union empathized with their grief and was willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with this community. For the SGEU members of La Loche, it demonstrated in action the ideas of solidarity and caring that we as a union often espouse. For non-unionized members of the community, their first introduction to SGEU was one made indelible by such an immediate response to their grief.
In a political environment that is increasingly hostile to unions, the labour movement must engage with people's hearts as much as their minds. We must say to the people of Saskatchewan: forces of elitism and isolationism divide us, solidarity and compassion unites us.
As a union, we sent a strong message of support that reverberates in the community of La Loche. I have always been immensely proud to be a union activist and to belong to SGEU, but never more so than in this moment of tragedy when we stood together as an organization to say, “We Care.”