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Marci Ien

January 12, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

Marci Ien Brings hope to La Loche After Devastating School Shooting

For more than 15 years, Marci Ien woke people up with a friendly face as the co-host and news anchor of the national morning program Canada AM.  Today, she is a co-host of one of televisions’ most popular daytime programs The Social.

When Marci learned of a school shooting that took place in La Loche, Saskatchewan in January 2016, she couldn’t sleep and knew that she had to do something. Looking at a photo of students from the school, something jumped out at her — one of the students was wearing a Toronto Raptors hat. She decided to reach out to Masai Ujiri, Raptors president, whom she knew a little and within seconds he got in touch wondering how he can help.

Together they traveled to La Loche to meet with the students and provide hope in the midst of tragedy. Below is an excerpt from a Toronto Star article chronicling Marci’s time with the students and Masai, or read the whole article here.

The photo was a sea of First Nations faces lit by candles, growing blurrier the further they got from the camera, but something jumped out at Marci Ien. One of the children in the forgiveness circle was wearing a Toronto Raptors hat. She knew Raptors president Masai Ujiri a little; she sent him an email. The subject line read, simply, “School Shooting.”

Within seconds, her phone rang. It was Ujiri. How could he help?

Greg Hatch only answered the phone call because he happened to be passing by the school secretary’s desk. After the school shootings in La Loche in January of last year, media descended on the north Saskatchewan town, and the town was tired of media. But Marci from CTV was calling for the principal again, and he was the acting principal. Fine.

“Best phone call I took,” says Hatch now.

Hatch was the acting principal because on Jan. 22 last year, a 17-year-old shot two younger cousins at home, and then came to school and killed a teacher and a teacher’s aide. In the aftermath the school administration went on leave; Hatch, a longtime fixture at the school, returned. The tiny town at the end of the highway was the centre of things for a few days, with politicians flying in and out. Then it stopped, and just the damage was left.

“We felt that we’ve been left on our own, and we’ve been abandoned,” says Hatch, who has been in La Loche since coming there from Dryden, Ont., as a teacher in 1976, and who coached the town’s still-legendary 1983 basketball team that won the provincial title. “Not by individuals, but by the systems, the big systems. People came, and they left.

“Yeah, we’re hurting. We had people that went through a very traumatic event. And I think, just trying to understand what trauma is, what trauma actually is. Our community has been through a lot of trauma, and it wasn’t just January 22nd. And it continued after January 22nd. I think it’s the whole trauma. Generations of trauma.”

He heard real caring in Ien’s voice — she was anchoring on CTV when the news broke, and couldn’t sleep that night — and told her, look, we have a hot breakfast program here, and funds are running low. We want to start a hot lunch program, too, because in the winter kids can’t get home for lunch. There are real needs. But if you and Ujiri want to help, come here and see what it is.

They agreed. On Nov. 28 a tiny plane descended out of a white zero-visibility sky, and Hatch was waiting at the airport. When they landed he told himself, this is real. This is real.

Hatch took Ujiri and Ien and a photographer around town, and to the school. Ujiri went from class to class; a few kids knew him, but most didn’t. He tapped kids on the shoulder in the library. He gave out Raptors hats and T-shirts that read LA LOCHE DREAMS BIG, based on his Giants of Africa foundation. He spoke at an assembly, and the kids were chatting among themselves to start, but he grabbed them. Ujiri’s seen a lot of rooms in a lot of places. He asked for a volunteer. A boy came up, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy.

“He asked him his name, and he said it,” said Ien. “Masai said, ‘We’re going to try this again. My name is Masai Ujiri, and I’m from Nigeria.’ So James says, ‘My name is James Smith, and I’m from La Loche.’

“And Masai said, ‘Listen. When you tell people where you’re from, you always have to be proud. So your shoulders need to be back, and you need to look me in the eye, so you need to try that again.’ And the kid goes, ‘MY NAME IS JAMES SMITH, AND I’M FROM LA LOCHE!’ And everyone starts clapping. And Greg said later he hadn’t seen his staff and students smile for a year, not like that.”

In his speech, you can hear Ujiri’s voice catch. He saw some things on the visit that got to him, and that’s where you hear it. It’s towards the last couple sentences of the part where he says, “You must dream bigger than here. There’s tragedy that happens everywhere in this world. Don’t cry about it. Live, and help others. Every single one of us is chosen. And every single one of us is special. OK? You have to find it. You have to look at yourself every day and find it.”

When he got back, Ujiri did some reading on how Canada has treated its First Nations population, and our national shame. He thought about doing a basketball camp there. He thought about donations. He said, we’ll bring five kids to a game. No, eight. No, 10. The school chose the kids; Ujiri wanted kids who hadn’t left town.

They landed Thursday morning, accompanied by Hatch and his administrative assistant Martha Morin. They visited Ryerson University, where Imogen Coe, the dean of science, prepared tours through the old Maple Leaf Gardens, through the science labs; the teacher who was shot was from Coe’s hometown of Uxbridge.

Then they went to the Raptors practice facility, where the prime minister was waiting. Ien had emailed Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, a shot in the dark. The PMO said yes. He met privately with the students for half an hour, before their basketball drills that included Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

Afterwards, one Grade 12 kid named Jeremiah Janvier-Mercredi asked to speak to the PM, and they talked. Janvier-Mercredi wants to go into film; he is a big, funny, sharp kid. Trudeau asked him what he wanted people to know about La Loche.

“He said, we’re loud and we’re proud, but we’re dreaming big and we don’t want to disappear,” said Trudeau. “We don’t want to be forgotten.”