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Anti-gang conference held in Fort William

Tuesday February 11, 2014
Photos by Crystallee Mouland/Special to Wawatay News

Scott Mesenegeesic and his father Norman. Scott was left partially paralyzed and unable to speak in the same incident that killed Desmond.
Photos by Crystallee Mouland/Special to Wawatay News

The McKay-Matthews family talk about how the death of Desmond Matthews impacted them.

More than 200 parents, youth and several guest speakers from across Canada attended an anti-gang conference on Jan. 15 to learn how to prevent and combat gangs and their activities.

“Kids need to be careful with who they are hanging around with and the activities they are doing in terms of drugs, alcohol and gangs,” said Fort William First Nation Elder Gene Bannon of the Rama committee.

The committee hosted this cultural event for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal parents and youth to assist people from entering and exiting the gang lifestyle.

Regina police officer Sheldon Steinke gave the message that gang life is not as glamorous as people think it is and it’s hard to get out of a gang once you are in it.

“It is a constant struggle for individuals in gangs to get out,” he said. “Guaranteed, gang life will get you incarcerated. Try to avoid it now by getting involved in your community and with positive youth.”

Law enforcement officers said gangs and incidents are on the rise and resources and programs do help to reduce gang issues, but gang awareness and support resources are decreasing.

The Mesenegeesic and Matthews families and other community members with knowledge about gang activities said how communities, governments and law enforcement can best be protected from gang violence.

Scott Mesenegeesic is not affiliated with gangs. But on Dec. 29, 2012, he and Desmond Matthews of Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation attended a party where there were gang members.

During the party, Mesenegeesic was severally beaten and Matthews was stabbed to death.

“Wrong time, wrong place,” said Mesengeesic. “I was stabbed two times, was beaten in the head and they tried to set me on fire intentionally. I had third degree burn on my back. I was on life support.”

The injuries Mesengeesic sustained left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. He had to share his story through a voice computer device.

Following the incident, Mesengeesic spent months in the hospital with his father by his side daily.

“My dad was by my side and kept me alive. I don’t want you guys to go through what I’m going through because this is hell,” said Mesengeesic. “Stay with friends when you go out. Your life can go upside just like that, believe me.”

Mesengeesic ‘s father Norman described how they are healing and overcoming their new life situation.

“We went through hell,” he said. “I lost my job. When something happens like this you lose everything. You lose focus and your friends and family. It’s hard to see your child in the hospital.”

Both Norm and Scott Mesenegeesic believe gang conferences can help save lives and reduce gang crime.

“This is what this conference is about,” the elder Mesenegeesic said. “There is something going on there with our kids. We have to do something about it to straighten things out.”
The family of Desmond Matthews – who died in the incident that left Mesengeesic paralyzed – said they are managing a lot grief by losing him to gang violence.

“I’m still trying to get by and find my way back,” said Desmond’s sister, Leona Matthews.
“Losing my brother has been really hard.”

Mathews and McKay said there are a number of homicides in their community and several families are grieving the loss of loved ones and the effects of high rates of gang violence.

“Stay away from the gang life because they say, the only way you get out is you die and that’s how my brother went,” Leona said. “He tried to get out, he wanted to get out and he died trying to get out.”

Desmond’s mother Harriet McKay said there are no resources for people in her community to leave gang activities and the lifestyle. She feels if there were better resources, her son may have been able to leave the gang life easier.

“I think if there was more help for guys like my son, he would have been able to get out,” she said.

Grief counselling for victims of homicide and counselling for families affected by gang violence are limited in northern Ontario, explained McKay.

“I’m trying to get by daily and get stronger. It is a struggle to live every day. Back home there is hardly any resources to fall back on. The help is very limited. It’s like that for everyone back home.”

Grief counselling, gang prevention programs and conferences presented to northern remote communities being needed is the first step to help communities and families affected by gang incidents, McKay added.

Mathews believes community members can help gang victims and their families by showing their support.

“I think for people to interact with families like us who are going through these types of situations, I think would be good and start from there because the healing is an ongoing process,” she said.

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