Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reserve wrestling with grief

Fatal shooting of nine-year-old boy Sagkeeng's second killing this week

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SAGKEENG FIRST NATION -- The fatal shooting of a nine-year-old boy has added to the grief of a First Nation struck twice by violent deaths this week.

Chief Donavan Fontaine of Sagkeeng First Nation said his community is reeling after the shooting death of the nine-year-old Thursday. Mounties said Friday the boy was killed when he was shot in his upper body by his 14-year-old brother Thursday night.

"At this point, meeting with the family, meeting with the council members and then talking to the RCMP... they just said at this point there's really no definitive answer," Fontaine said.

The community is struggling to understand the tragedy.

"Children are precious, and (this) is really hurting us," Fontaine said.

RCMP D Division spokesman Cpl. Miles Hiebert told reporters Friday that "all indications" pointed to a "tragic accident."

The shooting happened just before 7 p.m. Thursday inside the boy's family home, RCMP said.

The Grade 3 student at a school on the reserve was one of seven children who lived with their father and mother at the blue, two-storey house. He attended a school with about 260 students.

His father works on a seasonal basis for the band as a contractor, Fontaine said.

Fontaine said the family is "in shock" over what has happened.

Friday afternoon, an RCMP police truck was parked in front of the home as a forensics officer in a white suit worked at the front of the property. Yellow tape surrounded the house. Bikes and a hockey net were on the lawn.

At one point, local residents shooed media away, telling reporters it was private property.

A community elder and neighbour who knew the family said he didn't want to assign blame for what happened.

"In a situation like this, we're reminded of how sacred our children are," said David Courchene.

Police have not released the boy's name. The Free Press is not naming him in case criminal charges are laid against his 14-year-old brother under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Hiebert said the boy was shot with a rifle. One of his parents and other family members were at home at the time, Hiebert said.

The younger boy was hit by one shot and sustained "significant" injuries, he said.

The RCMP are still trying to determine who owned the gun and how the 14-year-old came to be handling it.

"We are very early in this investigation. There are a number of people to speak to yet, and it is too early to speculate as to whether charges would be laid.

"We will examine all of the information and then determine a course of action," Hiebert said in an email.

He said Manitobans should be careful and well-trained if they handle firearms.

"The situation can go from nothing to deadly in moments, and there's no turning back the clock."

The property where the boy was shot had sets of antlers on top of a shed.

Fontaine said hunting is a normal activity for people who live in the community.

"Hunting is a way of life for our people," he said.

Sagkeeng First Nation, which has an on-reserve population of 5,800 and is 145 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, was the site of another death this week.

On Monday, Eugene Robert Fontaine was found dead in a backyard shed.

An autopsy concluded Fontaine died of blunt-force trauma.

The RCMP say he was attacked after an argument at a party in the home. Two men from the reserve face charges of second-degree murder in that case.

"These families need support," Chief Donavan Fontaine said.

He said wellness workers will work with schools, and the band is trying to assist the family with counselling services if they'd like.

Jeffrey Courchene, a Sagkeeng resident, said children in the community need better programming.

He said he'd like to see programs such as those run by the United Way or Rossbrook House in Winnipeg, because they offer kids the chance to develop.

"Everybody needs to be occupied," he said.

"If you have programming and you start at a young age, then you give them a work ethic."


-- with files from Mary Agnes Welch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2011 A3

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