Fa­tal blaze

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON -

Nine dead in First Na­tions fire in north­ern On­tario.

Sources in a re­mote north­ern On­tario First Na­tions com­mu­nity say three gen­er­a­tions of one fam­ily per­ished in a house fire that is reignit­ing calls for change on Canada’s re­serves.

A res­i­dent of the Pikangikum First Na­tion who did not want to be iden­ti­fied said nine peo­ple died in the blaze that de­stroyed a fam­ily home late Tues­day.

The source iden­ti­fied the vic­tims as Dean and An­nette Strang, their son Gil­bert, their daugh­ter Faith, Faith’s three chil­dren and two com­mon-law part­ners.

The source said all three chil­dren were un­der the age of five.

On­tario Pro­vin­cial Police Const. Diana Cole said the fire broke out late Tues­day in the re­mote com­mu­nity near the Man­i­toba-On­tario bound­ary that has been plagued by sui­cides.

The cause of the fire is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and police re­main on the scene, Cole said.

Alvin Fid­dler, grand chief of the Nish­nawbe Aski Na­tion which rep­re­sents First Na­tions in north­ern On­tario, said he spoke Wed­nes­day with Pikangikum Chief Dean Owen, who sounded ex­hausted.

“The shock of los­ing so many peo­ple in one tragic event is over­whelm­ing,” said Fid­dler. “There’s a tremen­dous loss and over­whelm­ing grief that all of us are feel­ing.”

Fid­dler de­scribed Pikangikum as “ground zero” when it comes to in­fra­struc­ture re­quire­ments such as hous­ing, ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter or the ca­pac­ity to fight fires.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau of­fered his con­do­lences to the com­mu­nity and said his gov­ern­ment will work to im­prove con­di­tions for First Na­tions peo­ple.

“We con­tinue to be en­gaged with pro­vin­cial and in­dige­nous lead­er­ship on how to build bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture, how to se­cure the fu­ture for in­dige­nous youth and their com­mu­ni­ties,” he said dur­ing a visit to Ed­mon­ton.

“This is not just about the moral, right thing to do. It’s about in­vest­ing in our shared fu­ture in this coun­try.”

Kyle Peters, the First Na­tion’s ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor, de­scribed the mood in the com­mu­nity as “shock and ex­tremely sad. It’s prob­a­bly one of the most dif­fi­cult times.”

“I’m try­ing to set up travel for im­me­di­ate fam­ily af­fected by the loss. Some as far as Al­berta, some as far as Lon­don, Ont., and even Moosonee, I be­lieve,” Peter said.

Cri­sis teams are also be­ing dis­patched from neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties, he added.

Joseph Mag­net, a con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa who has worked with the First Na­tion in the past, said he has been in all the houses in the com­mu­nity of about 2,100.

“They’re all wildly over­crowded,” Mag­net said. “They’re in out­ra­geous dis­re­pair. They don’t have in­door plumb­ing. They don’t have ad­e­quate wa­ter. They wouldn’t meet any­body’s fire code reg­u­la­tions.”

Lo­cal MP Robert Nault said dis­cus­sions were on­go­ing about send­ing in sup­port to help deal with “the whole is­sue of mourn­ing.”

“It af­fects ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity when­ever there’s a tragedy like this or a sui­cide,” he said. “This is a com­mu­nity that’s had a his­tory of sui­cides ... and tragic sit­u­a­tions, so this com­mu­nity has been in a con­stant cri­sis for a num­ber of years.”

On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne took to Twit­ter to of­fer her con­do­lences to the commu- nity.

“My thoughts are with the First Na­tions com­mu­nity of #Pikangikum and those who lost loved ones in last night’s dev­as­tat­ing house fire,” Wynne tweeted.

Nault said he was to meet Thurs­day with two health min­is­ters to dis­cuss what he called “the cri­sis in the North.”

“Not specif­i­cally about this in­ci­dent, but ob­vi­ously to talk about men­tal health, health-care de­liv­ery, the sui­cides,” he said. “Pikangikum has the largest sui­cide rate of any com­mu­nity in the west­ern world ... I think over 400 in the last cou­ple of decades.”

CP PHOTO

Police tape marks off a smoul­der­ing house on the Pikangikum First Na­tion, Wed­nes­day where nine peo­ple are be­lieved to have died in a house fire.

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