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Northern Saskatchewan community says new safety measures coming after call for help amid unrelenting violence

Contraband items that the RCMP gathered from Pelican Narrows over a weekend.  (RCMP - image credit)
Contraband items that the RCMP gathered from Pelican Narrows over a weekend. (RCMP - image credit)

Chief Karen Bird of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation says Pelican Narrows has a plan to increase security for health centre staff and boost RCMP presence amid unrelenting violence the community.

Pelican Narrows, which is about 420 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, has been under a state of emergency since last fall. They've reached out to the prime minister and provincial leaders calling for help to address ongoing violence.

"The improvements that are needed are being identified and resources being located," Bird said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Pelican Narrows RCMP say they conducted a weekend-long targeted enforcement project that boosted police presence and netted drugs, guns and other contraband.

"Having extra RCMP in the community made a big difference. We feel safe and are somewhat at peace," said Pelican Narrows Coun. Sarah Swan.

Officers seized five guns, 210 grams of methamphetamine and an unspecified amount of contraband alcohol, according to a news release. Alcohol is prohibited in Pelican Narrows, which is about 415 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

"Violence and drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Pelican Narrows," Insp. Stephen Bergerman said in the release.

RCMP made 12 arrests related to the seizures.

"It's about taking back our future," Bird said in a news release about the weekend's crackdown.

"Today's operation is part of our collective commitment with law enforcement to moving toward a path of healing, safety, and prosperity for Pelican Narrows, free from the influence of gangs."

The crackdown comes amid what community members have described as an escalating gang and crime problem in the town. Members of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation have been asking for help with the problem.

On Feb. 4, Chief Bird wrote an open letter to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for enhanced community safety, mental health support and more nurses.

Pelican Narrows has been under a state of emergency since last October, due to the town's high crime rates. At that time, the community added security at its entrance — a measure that is still in place. The local health clinic is also no longer offering non-urgent care because staff are occupied with so many emergencies.

Last week, CBC News heard from health-care staff who say they are exhausted from the constant exposure to trauma, oftentimes looking after patients who are victims of gunshot wounds, attacks from machetes, hammers and knives, and domestic violence.

A proposal to develop a community safety officer program in Pelican Narrows is still awaiting provincial approval. Bird said increased police presence has provided temporary peace, but Pelican Narrows is still "in crisis." She said plans are underway to provide longer-term safety solutions, including more security for health centre staff.

RCMP say they hope that enforcement projects like this weekend's will help lower the community's escalating crime rates.