In 2008, Maskwacis – formerly Hobbema – reached what, ordinarily, should have been its nadir. At just 23 months old, Asia Saddleback was shot during a drive-by shooting while sitting at her family’s dinner table. Saddleback survived, but still has a bullet lodged between her liver and spine. Gang violence was turning the community of 12,000 into a battlefield. In one six-month period, there were more than 150 shootings in Maskwacis.
But Saddleback’s story was not to be the only tragedy for Maskwacis. In 2011, five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird was shot in the head and killed while sleeping in his bed. In 2013, three teenaged members of a gang – one of 13 in the town – were convicted of manslaughter. They had taken turns firing a rifle at Yellowbird’s house. The judge described the acts as a form of “domestic terrorism.”
For several years, Roy Louis has been bravely fighting terror in Maskwacis, using his connections in the community to help organizations make change, before the bullets fly. “The gangs had a handle on our community for a while there,” Louis says. “I think the important thing was when the community stood up.” And it did. Louis, who at one time wanted to be a teacher but ended up dropping out of teachers’ college, perhaps stood up the tallest. It took guts. And in that way, he taught his community to come back together.
RCMP Inspector Charles Wood’s first day in Maskwacis was the day after Yellowbird’s death. “When I drove into the community for the first time, coming from a different province, I was faced with a five-year-old who had been shot by gang violence,” Wood says. “There was a great human outcry … for answers.” Louis was chair of the Maskwacis Consultative Group, a cultural bridge organization between the community and the RCMP. It was key. Louis used his connections to make change. And it was bold. As Louis told a House of Commons committee, in 2012, “In Hobbema, we didn’t just report a drug house: we demolished the house …”