Chief says infestations, housing shortage ‘a whole systemic issue’ in Shamattawa

Eric Redhead says remote community needs at least 30 more houses: ‘It’s not only a bug issue’

Shamattawa is a fly-in First Nation in northern Manitoba.

The chief of Shamattawa First Nation says he offered an Elder a way out of her cockroach-infested home but she refused.

The woman’s daughter, Tracy Pangman, went public with cringe-worthy video to seek relief for her 81-year-old mother.

While another band member, Peggy Beardy Anderson, detailed the lack of heat, running water and indoor plumbing that plagues some families.

Chief Eric Redhead agreed Shamattawa has some tough and chronic housing issues but said these critics oppose his leadership.

“They tried to remove me from office and I had to go to court to legally fight it in my first term as chief,” he said in an interview.

“It’s a smear campaign is what it is.”

Redhead said some appalling living conditions in his remote northern Manitoba community of about 1,200 pre-date his time as a councillor and then chief. And affect a large number of homes.

“It’s been an ongoing issue for a very, very long time. We do our best to try and address all these issues,” he said in an interview.

“We’re run very, very thin. We need about 30 homes, if not more.”

Eric Redhead was elected to a second, two-year term as chief in October 2020.

Redhead confirmed the exterminator’s contract had expired.

He said he was in talks to sign a new contract but the company wasn’t sending workers out during the pandemic.

“Sewer treatment, water treatment – it’s all outdated,” he added. “It’s problems that I inherited and I’ve tried my best to address.”

Pangman said her mother declined the offer of other accommodation because of another problem.

“They were trying to move her to an old teacherage but she refused because there’s bed bugs there. Moving her away from cockroaches to bed bugs.”

Pangman denied her complaints were politically motivated against the chief.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t want to live in that condition himself,” she said. “He gave himself a brand-new trailer.

“Why didn’t he move in the teacherage where he’s trying to move an Elder?”

Redhead said the community’s finances were “a mess” when he took over. He also said cockroaches were a chronic problem in some older houses.

“Even when I got (the exterminator) in the first time it was (in) such bad shape that they had to do multiple treatments…It’s not only a bug issue, it’s a whole systemic issue. It comes down to adequate housing.”

READ MORE: Cockroach nests and exploding furnaces: Why people of Shamattawa are pleading for help

Redhead said the federal government, which is supposed to provide housing on First Nations, doesn’t contribute enough to solve the over-crowding issue.

“When you’re not given enough housing for the number of people in your community these problems are amplified,” he added.

“The feds don’t provide enough homes for any First Nation across the country. We have people living in four-bedroom homes where people are sleeping on the floors.”

Pangman suggested some people in the community were getting special treatment when it came to housing. And she wanted the chief to fix that.

“It’s about not treating others equal,” she said.

“My mother’s living condition has nothing to do with politics and it proves right there on the videos that she is neglected by the chief and council.”

When asked if people should be afraid to speak out, Readhead said: “No. No. That’s what I mean, it’s a political issue.

“That’s what really hurt me,” he added, “personally, it hurt me. Because they know I spent my first term in office trying to reach out over party lines. Trying to bring people together.”

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