A young Cree boy is taking a stand against theft, vandalism and breaking and entering in his home community and territory in northern Quebec, saying it's a problem that's getting worse.
Liam Swallow, 14, is from Mistissini, Que., where there have been several social media posts in the last few months about vandalism happening, there and in other Cree communities. Swallow turned to social media to share his frustrations.
"Things are really getting out of hand … Things have really gone too far and people are stressed. People are tired. People are sick. People don't feel safe in their homes," Swallow told CBC News.
Swallow is a Grade 8 student at Voyageur Memorial High School in Mistissini. He is also a newly-elected member of the youth council.
"We can't just throw it under the carpet … It is actually a big deal and we really need to talk about it," he said. His online post has now been shared more than 60 times.
Swallow said that it takes a community to work toward change in Mistissini and across Eeyou Istchee, the traditional name for Cree territory in Quebec. He hopes to inspire a movement across the territory to address vandalism and violence.
"We can't always depend on our leaders. They might be busy, but we have a voice for a reason," said Swallow.
Michael Petawabano is the current chief of Mistissini and shared Swallow's Facebook post. He salutes the teenager's effort to speak up.
Petawabano believes youth initiating and leading the conversation will have a greater impact.
"As much as possible, it takes people [who do] what Liam did, a young guy standing up and saying, 'let's stop this, let's address this,'" said Petawabano.
A broken window in Oujé-Bougoumou. (Gaston Cooper)
Petawabano said he is proud of Swallow for starting an important conversation toward making Mistissini a safer place and reducing vandalism.
Other leaders across the territory have spoken up about addressing the issue.
Gaston Cooper, the newly-elected chief of Ouje-Bougoumou, wrote about his "deep concern" about incidents happening in his community in a Facebook post last month.
"These actions have a significant impact on our community's well-being, and they can have long-lasting consequences for both individuals and the community as a whole," said Cooper.
"I strongly urge all residents to come together and take a stand against vandalism."
Raymond Jolly owns and operates Eeyou Istchee Lifestyle, an on-line clothing brand and shop in Waskaganish, Que., that was broken into last month. About $4,000 worth of inventory was damaged and found outside. Cash was also stolen.
Raymond Jolly's shop, Eeyou Istchee Lifestyle, in Waskaganish, Que., was broken into last month. About $4,000 worth of inventory was damaged and found outside. (Raymond Jolly)
Chief Petawabano said vandalism comes at a great cost to the community and individuals.
"We've seen tires being slashed. Just the tire alone, that's 300 bucks," said Petawabano.
Petawabano said there was a house that recently had a lot of its windows broken.
"You're probably talking about anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 just to repair those windows. They're double pane, everything gets very expensive," said Petawabano.
An important tool in preventing vandalism and theft is to improve security systems, he added.
The Mistissini band also hires security to patrol its public facilities, he said, adding that alone will not solve the problem.
Petawabano wants to have a deeper conversation with the youth.
Gaston Cooper, the newly-elected chief of Oujé-Bougoumou, wrote a public notice on Facebook condemning vandalism of schools and other public buildings. (Submitted by Gaston Cooper)
"My office is open. Come and meet with us…and tell us some of the things that we can improve on," said Petawabano.
Part of that conversation is being initiated by Swallow, who has dreams of being a politician. Right now, he's using his voice to take a stand against vandalism and violence.
"The youth and the people should really stand together [...] because we're the future. We're going to be future chiefs, we're going to be future police officers and commissioners," said Swallow.
Swallow plans on doing public speeches in Cree communities and organizing a march in Mistissini.
"I want to start a campaign against vandalism and the violence. I just want to walk into the streets and get attention to stand together as one." said Swallow.