An Onion Lake man made his first court appearance in Lloydminster Provincial Court Sept. 22 on second-degree murder charges.
Vega Bear, 24, is charged in connection to the death of Braden Richard Bull of Little Pine First Nation. Bull’s body was found on Jan. 21 off Hwy 797 on Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN).
Bear was remanded in custody and is now scheduled to appear in Lloydminster Provincial Court Sept. 28 to speak to the matter.
Bear’s arrest comes after an eight-month long investigation by Saskatoon and Prince Albert RCMP General Investigation Section, North Battleford RCMP, and Onion Lake RCMP, the RCMP Major Crimes Unit – North, and the North Battleford RCMP Forensics Identification Section. The Saskatchewan RCMP Polygraph Unit also assisted with the investigation.
Onion Lake Cree Nation declared a state of emergency just days after Bull’s body was found. The leadership set-up check stops and blockaded roads.
In a Jan. 24 media release OLCN leadership said they were declaring a state of emergency “after a rash of drug and gang related activity, which has directly led to increased violence in the community.”
OLCN chief and council held an emergency meeting Jan. 22 to decide how to deal with the increasing drug and gang activity on OLCN.
“On Jan. 21, 2020, the community of Onion Lake experienced what are believed to be drug and gang related occurrences,” said Philip Chief, Director of Operations for Onion Lake Cree Nation.
“In the early afternoon, RCMP were involved in a high-speed chase through the community. Within a few hours of the chase, the body of a missing man was discovered by a search and rescue crew combing an area situated near the community of Onion Lake.”
Chief went on to say that later the same evening, a stolen vehicle lost control and drove into the wall of the OLCN Arena, causing extensive damage.
“Local officials found what is believed to be gang-affiliated graffiti inside the vehicle involved in the collision,” said Chief.
“The Nation has now experienced three deaths directly related to drugs and gang activity within the last two months, along with numerous high speed chases and violent crimes.”
OLCN said it continues to work closely with the RCMP for the assistance and protection of its people.
“The RCMP are working hard and trying their best but they need more help. Their resources are stretched too thin and our community needs the support of both levels of government before it gets worse” said OLCN Okimaw Henry Lewis.
The Onion Lake RCMP detachment has experienced above average monthly open case files.
OLCN leadership urgently called on the provincial and federal governments for assistance and protection they say is promised in the Treaty.
“Everyone is stretched to their limits,” said Okimaw Lewis. “We need the government to come to our tables and help us create a gang strategy and find solutions that will work for our nation. We need to increase policing resources, bring in external gang units or whatever is necessary to help our community members feel safe.”
Help for Onion Lake Cree Nation in its fight against gang and drug-related violence was interrupted due to COVID-19, according to a spokesperson from Indigenous Services Canada.
“We have been working on a joint Federal government strategy with Onion Lake Cree Nation to determine how existing federal programs from multiple departments could support elements of their proposal,” said Martine Stevens, media relations for Indigenous Services Canada on Sept. 2. “This effort has been delayed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Zarah Malik, spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, said starting in January 2018, the Government of Canada (GoC) has invested up to $291.2 million over five years to support police services in First Nation and Inuit communities through the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP).
“This is the greatest federal investment for policing in First Nation and Inuit communities since 1991 and, for the first time, is an ongoing commitment includes an annual increase of 2.75 per cent to address inflation.
“Through this program, Public Safety Canada provides funding to support enhanced policing services that are professional, dedicated and culturally responsive to the First Nation and Inuit communities they serve,” added Malik. “The program is cost-shared with the federal government covering 52 per cent of policing costs and the Provinces and Territories covering the remaining 48 per cent. Given the Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN) straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, the community currently holds a quadripartite FNPP agreement involving the Province of Alberta, the Province of Saskatchewan, Canada and the OLCN.”
Under the current FNPP agreement, OLCN has a total complement of eight full-time officers (FTEs) where two FTE’s are cost-shared with Alberta and six FTE’s with Saskatchewan. OLCN has also secured an additional officer as part of a process in 2018. Public Safety Canada is finalizing the amendment to the Saskatchewan Framework Agreement to reflect the additional officer through this process.
“The Minister of Public Safety has been given a mandate to co-develop a legislative framework for First Nations policing, which recognizes First Nations policing as an essential service,” said Malik on Sept. 8. “Public Safety is advancing this critically important commitment, which will require close collaboration with First Nations, Provinces and Territories. The advancement of this work presents an important opportunity to work collaboratively to identify current needs and how they might be addressed within the context of this initiative.”
Onion Lake Cree Nation has about 4,000 people living in their community, which is located about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster and borders the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.