Police forcefully removed a camp of tents inhabited by homeless people in Lac La Biche during the coldest day of late April 2021.
The camp, which has now been forcefully relocated ten times, was located in the small, northwestern Alberta community of Lac La Biche County. Residents of the makeshift camp are First Nations and Métis peoples, prompting local advocates to speak up against the county’s actions and the long-standing issue of homelessness.
Jason Ekeberg of Métis Nation of Alberta Region 1 told APTN News of the sad situation he witnessed. “We have to support them; they’re human beings.” Métis officials have repeatedly sought meetings with Lac La Biche county representatives to lease public land at a fair rate. Mayor Omer Moghrabi justified actions by stating that the tents were erected on private land and that there were reports of criminal activity.
James Cardinal, president of Métis Nation Region 1 in Lac La Biche, stated that nothing has been done to help the relocated people, some of whom suffer from addictions.
Cardinal shared that the Indigenous population of Lac La Biche deals with Colonialism and that their people suffer because of it. While officials speak of “Steps towards reconciliation,” it only means something when those steps are actually taken. The Indigenous population of Lac La Biche exists within a long history of racism and discrimination.
MLA Laila Goodridge has had multiple opportunities to publicly denounce this systemic racism present within the county but has chosen to remain non reactive on the issue. Goodridge did not provide access to provincial resources for those affected by the removal of the box tent camp.
In light of the now public controversy over the removal of the homeless indigenous people, Lac La Biche County issued a statement regarding their long-term plans of a “transitional housing task force” and a $500,000 budget for support of the homeless population in the community.
The country reiterated their justification for removing the camp as protecting the landowner’s rights and the “fire hazard” of the camp. Mayor Moghrabi told Lakeland Connect: “We chose to remove the camp to keep the homeless safe.” The statement from LLB Council also indicated: “We understand the tough position that many in the homeless community are in, and Lac La Biche County wants to keep them safe.”
Community members believe that the county should focus on dialogue and consult with elected Indigenous leaders on this and other vital issues in the county. After a special meeting held on April 28th, Mayor Moghrabi issued a statement calling on the help of MLA Goodridge: “Our goal (in collaboration with Métis Nation of Alberta) will be to provide immediate relief to our vulnerable homeless residents who are in need of our community’s support. We’re also requesting a meeting between Provincial ministers, MLA Laila Goodridge, MNA representatives and Lac La Biche County to ask for assistance from higher levels of government.”
The Buffalo Tribune asked what actionable steps would be taken on racism and homelessness in the Indigenous community, MLA Goodridge replied that the county had not yet asked her to step in. Goodridge encouraged the county to find a solution with First Nations and Metis peoples on homelessness but has not yet brought this issue to the attention of the Federal Government.
TBT: Hello Ms. Goodridge,
This is my 2nd email follow up with no response.
We’re reaching out to you with respect to the ongoing box shelter crisis in your riding, which we consider to be a serious issue. We’re wondering why you’ve been quiet on the issue. We are aware that other community members have been proactive in wanting to deal with this crisis, and we want to know what you are doing to help facilitate an end to this.
How is your working relationship with Indigenous people in your riding?
LG: “I’ve been following this situation but so far have not been asked by the County to step in.” I would encourage the county to work with our homeless residents along with our First Nations and Métis officials to find a solution here. I know the county is working to address the issue of homelessness through their Transitional Housing Task Force, and I look forward to seeing that plan come forward in the near future to help address homelessness in a more holistic and long-term way.” - Laila Goodridge, Member of the Legislative Assembly Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche and Parliamentary Secretary for the Francophonie
Member of Parliament David Yurdiga offered the following statement to The Buffalo Tribune : “At present, we are working proactively with the local Indigenous Organizations to ensure that they are equipped to provide the federal resources such as Canada Homeless Strategy with the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 1 to ensure the success of their endeavor's to assist resolve and remedy this Indigenous human crisis.”