Norway House Cree Nation made headlines in February 2018 after its then-chief and council erected a checkstop that was meant to stop illegal drugs and alcohol from entering the dry community of around 6,000 people.
However, current Chief Larson Anderson recently told Nickel Belt News that the operation was shut down in late May of that year, three months after he and the new council were elected into office.
“Nothing got seized. No drugs, very little alcohol,” he said. “Plus, we were concerned about the rights of travellers. It was just a stupid plan, period.”
Anderson went on to say that they didn’t even have the funds to continue this program if they wanted to, since previous chief Ron Evans committed $600,000 to set up this checkpoint (which included a $500,000 annual operating cost).
Instead of spending all this money on a project that he described as “ineffective,” Anderson said he’s been working more closely with the local RCMP to help stomp out this drug problem.
“Since then we did meet with RCMP to make sure that there’s more emphasis on finding who the sellers are and tracking the product down and they’ve done a really good job,” he said. “They’ve really caught quite a number of people since this was closed off. They’ve managed to get some fair-sized seizures.”
When this checkstop was initially set-up early last year, the project did have its local supporters.
In a March 2018 interview with APTN News, Dave Williamson, an instructor at the Norway House campus of the University College of the North, said the idea had potential to crack down on the influx of drugs and alcohol that was still coming into the community.
“The alcohol is a concern largely because of the violence that’s associated with it,” he said after consenting to a search of his car. “The drugs [are] a concern because of the gang activity that’s attached to it. This is a good starting point.”
“Since this checkstop’s opened I feel more secure at home,” added Jeff Muskego, a butcher at the community grocery store. “I see violence is kind of dropping a little. And I see there’s not that much activity now at nights.”
Checkstop security officer Fred Keam also told APTN that the project was getting some results in its early stages, since his team made 20 confiscations in the months of February and March.
They even discovered a .357 magnum pistol that someone threw in the bush near the checkpoint.
According to the report from APTN, this security team checked a total of 1,606 vehicles carrying 4,106 people throughout March 1-22.
However, Anderson claims that his decision to shut the project down was met with a mostly positive reception from members of the community.
Since then, the Norway House chief said, in addition to working with the RCMP, he’s trying to take a more holistic approach to solving the community’s ills.
“Quite frankly, my concern is housing, my concern is employment, better healthcare,” said Anderson. “My philosophy is that if you give your people something to do, something to look forward to, something that can be a positive influence, that will take care of the drug problem in the long run.”
Former Norway House chief Ron Evans could not be reached for comment in time for this publication.