July 18, 2019

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Sagkeeng moves to demolish homes allegedly linked to meth trade

Sagkeeng First Nation is planning to demolish two houses after evicting tenants for allegedly making methamphetamines, in the hopes of reversing a rise in crime related to meth.

“This is a national crisis right now,” Chief Derrick Henderson said Wednesday in an interview. “It's the young people who are getting involved in it, so it's impacting the whole community.”

He said the rise in meth usage at Sagkeeng, 145 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, is putting a strain on education, health care and social services. “Everything is intertwined and if you don't address it, you're going to have more people in the community with social ills.”

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Sagkeeng First Nation is planning to demolish two houses after evicting tenants for allegedly making methamphetamines, in the hopes of reversing a rise in crime related to meth.

"This is a national crisis right now," Chief Derrick Henderson said Wednesday in an interview. "It's the young people who are getting involved in it, so it's impacting the whole community."

He said the rise in meth usage at Sagkeeng, 145 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, is putting a strain on education, health care and social services. "Everything is intertwined and if you don't address it, you're going to have more people in the community with social ills."

Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson: '(Meth) is a national crisis right now'

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson: '(Meth) is a national crisis right now'

On Monday, band officials served eviction notices to two homes in the community. In a Facebook video, councillors can be seen telling locals this is due to those households being used to distribute meth. The Free Press could not verify those claims.

On Friday, the community will play host to a ceremony to pray that meth use will dissipate and to share views on the local crisis.

"There's a proper way to do things," said Henderson, adding the houses might be demolished shortly after. Some had mulled setting the houses on fire, but the chief said that’s not in the cards.

The two houses are owned by the band. Like many reserves, housing is in short supply at Sagkeeng (formerly known as Fort Alexander). According to the 2016 census, 39 per cent of homes on the reserve were unsuitable for the number of tenants.

Henderson said officials have evidence the homes were too contaminated to occupy, with chemicals in the walls and furnace system. He said the Anishinaabe community supports the idea of demolishing both structures.

"It’s not only in Sagkeeng; our neighbouring communities are feeling the pinch," he said.

Last July, the Free Press documented a rise in break-ins and meth usage in the adjacent town of Powerview-Pine Falls.

Band officials served eviction notices to two homes in the community, alleging they were linked to the meth trade.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Band officials served eviction notices to two homes in the community, alleging they were linked to the meth trade.

On the reserve, Sagkeeng officials believe children as young as 13 are taking meth. That’s particularly jarring for a reserve still mourning the death of 15-year-old band member Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg in August 2014.

Henderson said his band council is also discussing security cameras and checkpoints.

"We're going to go as far as we have to," the chief said. "The RCMP are well-aware of it and they're supportive of what we're doing."

The RCMP wrote in a Wednesday statement they are monitoring the situation, including Friday’s planned demolitions.

"Our role is to keep the peace and ensure the safety of all involved," wrote Cpl. Julie Courchaine.

"We are aware that methamphetamine is a concern, and we will continue to work with community members, stakeholders and leaders in addressing this issue," Courchaine wrote, asking locals to report any relevant information to Powerview RCMP.

A federal-provincial-municipal task force on the meth crisis in Manitoba is set to report its recommendations next month.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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