First Nations children drowning in a rising tide of Edmonton gangs have been thrown a life raft.

Pohna: Keepers of the Fire is a program that has begun to pull children on the brink of organized crime out of the flames.

“These are kids whose lives are complicated,” Pohna director Karen Erickson said yesterday.

“Without intervention, it’s likely they’ll continue on the trajectory of criminal activity.”

Police will place at-risk youth in a program that offers goal-setting, support and solutions, rather than throw them into an often unforgiving justice system.

Though the program is targeted for at-risk youth between ages of 11 and 17, organizers are confident admissions will sway to a pre-teen age group.

Police Chief Mike Boyd said the initiative couldn’t have begun at a more opportune time, as downtown officers are dealing with increasing numbers of younger gangsters-in-training. “We saw that there were youth close enough to the fringes that we needed a way to help these young people before they got into the thick of things,” he said yesterday.

The program will show 75 willing kids they have value, importance and strengths, Erickson said, adding Pohna ties in to the recently released REACH Report, a proactive model for targeting crime.

“These kids aren’t going to turn their lives around in a day or a week,” she said. “Even if they do end up in the correctional system with charges, we will still follow them.”