Approximately 75 people from surrounding First Nations stood outside the St. Paul, Alta., courthouse on Thursday to rally against what they’re calling a hate crime.
Andrew Sydora, 70, of Ashmont, Alta., was scheduled to appear on three charges of uttering threats. According to RCMP, a male had made threats Sunday to “shoot up” the Ashmont, Alta., school, Saddle Lake Cree Nation and Whitefish Lake First Nation.
Sydora was arrested and charged on Sunday and then released with conditions.
On Thursday, duty counsel advised the presiding judge that Sydora is currently hospitalized and was unable to attend court. The judge granted an adjournment to Nov. 21.
Princess Shalayna McGilvery, a student at Kihew Asiniy Education Centre in Saddle Lake, was part of the group rallying outside the courthouse and said she was there to show support for her peers.
“We’re all family in the world,” she said. “Choose kindness. Choose love over hatred.”
Ashmont is about 20 km northwest of St. Paul, and 140 km northeast of Edmonton. The Ashmont school was open this week under “hold and lock” with all entrances locked and staffed. An RCMP officer patrolled the hallways. It’s a school where 95 per cent of students are Indigenous.
When normally 575 students attend, this week just 25 came, according to St. Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD) Superintendent Greg Brodziak. He said the threats are being taken seriously and SPERD is working to ensure parents feel safe about sending their kids to school.
The school division is hiring a private security company to help secure the Ashmont school in the coming weeks. They’re also consulting with RCMP to inquire about ongoing supervision.
Children at all four schools are off until next Tuesday due to previously scheduled teachers’ events. Counsellors will be available to assist children at Ashmont when they return, said Brodziak, and the school is requesting an elder be on site for support.
On the Saddle Lake and Whitefish Lake reserves, schools are operating in the same mode as in Ashmont. Buses to and from schools on both reserves and in Ashmont were cancelled.
Saddle Lake band councillor Pamela Quinn, a former high school teacher, said she’s sick and tired of First Nations children being in danger.
“They’ve been targeted too long. Since the residential schools they’ve been targeted. Since the Sixties Scoop they’ve been targeted and they’re continuing to be targeted, so we need to guarantee and ensure their safety,” she said.
Saddle Lake Chief Eric Shirt linked area racial tensions to a lack of understanding regarding treaty partnerships and said he hopes to work with nearby leaders to find solutions.
“We want to work positively. We’re good people and we want the best for our community and our children,” said Shirt.
“We need the help of like-minded people and people with good hearts.”
An emergency community meeting is being held at the Saddle Lake band hall Thursday evening which will include leadership and community members from both Saddle Lake and Whitefish Lake First Nations.