Grieving chief calls for housing action after two teens, toddler die in Pimicikamak fire
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/02/2022 (473 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After three young people died in a Saturday house fire on Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Chief David Monias is urging Manitobans to lobby their MPs to make good on a promised construction spree for reserves with overcrowded homes.
“There is sadness and grief floating over Cross Lake right now; it’s pretty heavy,” said Monias.
Two teenagers and a toddler perished early Saturday morning in a fire on the reserve — also known as Cross Lake — located 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
RCMP say they were called to the a house fire around 4:50 a.m., and found a home “fully engulfed in flames” which made it impossible for Mounties and the band’s safety officers to enter.
Four residents managed to escape through a window but all were injured, police said, including a 36-year old man, a 36-year-old woman, a 20-year-old woman and a four-year-old girl.
“People are crying; people are angry and looking for answers, for help,” Monias said.
“People are scared this might happen to them, because a lot of people aren’t in safe places.”
That’s because many homes on the reserve often have more than seven people living inside.
“We have 10,000 people in our community, and we have 1,200 houses. That’s just not acceptable,” he said.
In the 2016 census, 42 per cent of homes in Cross Lake met the official criteria to be considered overcrowded.
Many reserves have dilapidated, modular housing that hasn’t kept up with birth rates, in part because the federal Indian Act makes it near impossible to obtain mortgages and large renovation loans.
“It doesn’t matter what party (is in office). Systemically, these governments are underfunding us and they’re not doing (enough) to help us out,” Monias said.
On Monday afternoon, Premier Heather Stefanson said she is making arrangements to visit Cross Lake on Wednesday, to help the community heal during this “absolutely horrific” time. Stefanson said she will be in the North later this week for the Trappers’ Festival in The Pas.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with them all and they need to know that,” the premier said.
Last December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated a 2021 election pledge for $2 billion for Indigenous housing “with over half of the funding available by the upcoming summer construction period.”
Monias is hoping the federal Liberals fulfil that pledge. His band is demoralized after filing two applications for the rapid housing initiative, a federal COVID-19 program.
He hopes Manitobans pray for his community, but also advocate for them.
“The way you can help out is to start calling your MPs, your MLAs, the premier, the prime minister — and say, ‘Listen, you’ve got to something with housing and poverty on reserve,’” he said.
Meanwhile, Ottawa is still responding to a 2018 parliamentary report on the reasons so many First Nations people die in house fires, such as unclear building codes and under-funded firefighters.
The Liberals have allocated $33.8 million for on-reserve fire services over five years.
A 2005 federal assessment found First Nations people living on reserve were 10.4 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people.
In Cross Lake, the local NorthMart has donated $6,000 to the grieving family, while mental-health supports are coming from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
Autopsies and an RCMP investigation are underway, with the fire commissioner assisting.
“It’s just so tragic — not just one, but three loved ones,” Monias said.
“No parent should ever bury their child.”
Updated on Monday, February 14, 2022 12:10 PM CST: Updates with write-through, changes headline