A Manitoba First Nation is now the second northern community to declare a state of emergency in just a matter of days, and Indigenous leaders said March 13 that if those communities don’t get the support and assistance they need soon, people will continue to be harmed and continue to die.
At a media conference in Winnipeg on Monday, Shamattawa First Nation Chief Jordna Hill said he was declaring a state of emergency in the remote northern community.
He said Shamattawa is currently in a state of crisis due to recent incidents including a fire that left numerous families homeless, as well as multiple recent suicides in the community.
A fire in the community last week saw a multi-unit housing complex burn to the ground, and Hill said the community did not have adequate fire services to properly fight the blaze.
Hill also fought back tears as he spoke about recent suicides in the community, including the suicide of a woman who died just weeks after her daughter also died by suicide.
“This mother was crying out for help for her daughter, and after losing her daughter the mom died by suicide as well,” a visibly frustrated Hill said on Monday.
“I’m tired, I’m hurt, and I’m pissed off.”
During Monday’s media conference, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick also struggled to contain her emotions, and she openly wept as she called for improvements to services in Shamattawa and in other First Nations communities.
“That hopelessness results from a lack of adequate services from governments,” Merrick said.
“We have to realize that our First Nations communities do not have what we take for granted in urban areas.
She added she is also worried about children and youth in First Nations communities who she said continue to deal with issues like addictions, mental health issues, and often with severe overcrowding in homes.
“There are families where there are 16 people in one home,” Merrick said. “How can you expect a child to sit down and do their homework? How do we expect our youth to be able to even sit at a computer and play a game in that atmosphere?
“How do we expect our children to sleep in a bedroom with five or six different people? That is what is happening in our First Nations communities, and that should not be.
“Our people are in despair.”
Shamattawa First Nation is the second First Nation in the north to declare a state of emergency in a one-week span, as O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation Chief Shirley Ducharme said March 6 she had declared a state of emergency in the community, also commonly referred to as South Indian Lake.
Ducharme spoke to the Winnipeg Sun last week, and said she was calling on both the federal and provincial governments for assistance to resolve issues she says have “plagued” the northern community for years, but that have become far more prevalent in recent months, including mental health issues, addictions, and a several recent acts of violence.
“We can't wait any longer,” Ducharme said last week. “We are dealing with emergencies and tragedy on a daily basis here it seems.
“Our people are dying, and as leadership we have to do something.”
On Monday, the Sun reached out to both the province and the federal government for comment on Monday’s media conference, but so far has not received responses from either.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.