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How this northern Alberta First Nation is tackling drug use in its community

April 18, 2024

Fort McMurray 468 First Nation taking hard stance against dealers

A man sits in an office and smiles.
Fort McMurray 468 First Nation Coun. Christopher Beausoleil says the nation has many supports in place for people who would like to recover from addiction. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

NationTalk: A First Nation in northern Alberta is taking steps to control its future, and the safety of its members, in the fight against drugs.

Councillors and residents in the small community of Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, 40 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, have seen an increase in property crimes related to drug use, such as break-ins and vehicle theft.

Coun. Samantha Whalen said the community is looking to tackle the drug issue before it gets out of hand.

The First Nation, which is made up of four reserves, held community meetings in February and March to hear from concerned residents and get ideas about how to tackle the issues. 

A woman poses for a photo in a suit.
Coun. Samantha Whalen says the community is taking a stance against drug dealers in the First Nation. (Submitted by Samantha Whalen)

The community is issuing band council resolutions (BCRs), which are used to ban certain people from the community. The nation is banning drug dealers, as well as others who house or otherwise assist dealers.

BCRs are shared with the RCMP and court. Prior to 2020, the nation had issued only about two bans, said Whalen. Now there are about 20 active bans.

The BCRs aren’t enforceable by police, but Chief Supt. Mark Hancock of Wood Buffalo RCMP said the detachment has asked all of the First Nations in Wood Buffalo for their BCRs. They will then be reviewed by the RCMP’s legal staff.

An RCMP chief stands in an office. He's in front of a Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo RCMP sign.
RCMP Chief Supt. Mark Hancock said he is working on bringing in an Indigenous liaison for the southern communities in Wood Buffalo. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

For now, the police are acting to assist the First Nation when it enacts a BCR. That could include having the police present during an eviction as a way to keep the peace. 

Support for drug users

Fort McMurray 468 First Nation Coun. Christopher Beausoleil said he’s heard from community members that there are concerns around safety, drug activity and violence. He said he wants to make sure children in the community are protected from drug use.

Before members are banned from the community, they are given an opportunity for rehabilitation. But if the person doesn’t want to work to get better, or they keep re-offending, they will be banned, Beausoleil said. 

“We’re in a position now where we can have a harsh approach to those who don’t want to change and are abusing the system here within our nation, but we also have a good amount of tools to support those individuals who want to change their lives,” he said.

When it comes to drug dealers who are trying to make money by putting others at risk, “we just can’t have any tolerance for that,” Beausoleil said.

“We’re not trying to harm or push away or make anybody who’s in active addiction feel bad about that,” said Beausoleil, who is a recovering addict. “What we try to do, though, is try to give them all the support they need.” 

Beausoleil said the nation will help people get mental health support, child care, cultural activities and other programs. The nation funds many supports through the community wellness program, and the reserve has a a federally funded day treatment program. 

RCMP not receiving many calls for service

In 2023, the RCMP fielded 75 calls for service from the First Nation, down from 103 in 2021. From 2020 to 2023, 36 per cent of the calls were related to property crime. 

Hancock would like to see more community members calling the RCMP.

“We’re available, and I want to make sure your community is safe,” he said.

The RCMP and First Nation are working together to bring down crime in the community.

They’re working on an agreement that will allow the RCMP to work from a building in the community provided by the First Nation. The hope is that using the office will increase the police presence in the community while helping build relationships between community members and the RCMP. 

Whalen said the office will help build relationships between community members and the police. 

“There’s enough healthy members to fight for those of us who aren’t healthy to fight for themselves,” Whalen said. 

The office wouldn’t be staffed full-time, Hancock said. Small southern communities in Wood Buffalo are patrolled daily by four officers and a corporal. Those officers would be able to use the building. 

Hancock is also working on getting an Indigenous liaison who would focus on the southern communities in Wood Buffalo. They would also be able to use the office. 

Betty Woodward, a member of Fort McMurray 468 First Nation who lives in the hamlet of Anzac, said she’s noticed people bringing stolen goods from Anzac back to the First Nation.

“It’s really bad and it makes it look like the nation is harbouring these criminals,” Woodward said. 

She now has a camera on her property.

Woodward is anxious to see a larger police presence in the community. 

“Just because we live out in a community does not mean that we have to be forgotten,” Woodward said. 


Jamie Malbeuf, Jamie Malbeuf is a reporter with CBC News, based in Fort McMurray. She started her career with CBC in 2017, after graduating from MacEwan University with a major in journalism. She covers a range of topics including health, justice and housing. Follow her on Twitter @JamieMalbeuf. Send story ideas to