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

‘I don’t really know how many houses are like that but I know that there is no help for them.’

A Manitoba woman is upset over a cockroach infestation at her mother’s home on Shamattawa First Nation.


Tracy Pangman cries herself to sleep at night worrying about her elderly mother.

She said cockroaches have invaded the 81-year-old’s home in isolated Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba.

“I flew there just to go take a few videos of her house because she told me it was getting bad,” said Pangman, who doesn’t live in the Swampy-Cree community also known as Kischimattawow.

“And I will never forget what I saw.”

Pangman said the insect infestation keeps her up at night, worrying about her mother’s physical and mental health.

“I tear up thinking of her when I go to bed; how can my mother sleep? How can she?”


Watch video here:


Pangman isn’t alone.

People living in and off the fly-in community 745 km northeast of Winnipeg report some appalling living conditions.

One family begged for help online wi, claiming the pests try to crawl into their children’s ears. In the post that has since been removed, they say they regularly empty and sanitize their home but can’t conquer the bugs.

Chief Eric Redhead, who was re-elected to a second two-year term in October, did not make himself available for an interview.

He said he was busy with “teleconferences and zoom” meetings before he stopped replying to messages altogether.

“Chief and council they don’t respond to anything,” said on-reserve band member Peggy Beardy Anderson.

“If they’re asked to help all they say is, ‘See what I can do.’”

Shamattawa is an isolated community in northern Manitoba.

Beardy Anderson said people are afraid of repercussions if they speak publicly.

“So many houses have no heat,” she said. “They use ovens and (portable) heaters.”

Some band members live without running water or sewer services. But those contacted by APTN News declined to be interviewed.

“I don’t really know how many houses are like that but I know that there is no help for them,” added Beardy Anderson.

“But I’m here and I will have to stand up for my people.”

The aftermath of a recent furnace explosion in a Shamattawa home.

Houses in Shamattawa are not hooked up to the provincial electrical grid and rely on boiler-type heating systems that use flammable furnace fuel.

Photos shared with APTN show a recent explosion destroyed a room in a home with small children. A similar explosion left the new band office without heat.

The federal government, which funds services on Canada’s 633 First Nations, said staff from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) met with Shamattawa’s band council on Oct. 20.

Spokesperson Leslie Michelson said ISC has provided more than $8.4 million to the community’s “housing priorities” since 2016.

She said 12 new homes were constructed in 2019-20 and nine existing homes renovated and expanded.

“The operation and maintenance of housing stock is the responsibility of First Nations, who receive financial support from ISC to deliver housing programs on reserves,” Michelson said in a written statement emailed to APTN.

“In regard to concerns about furnaces at Shamattawa First Nation, they would best be directed to the Chief and Council.”

One of the posts seeking help on the community’s Facebook page.

People in the community say demand for new and better housing outstrips supply.

“I am sure nobody would want to live like this, not even you who ever is reading and watching these vids,” said Pangman, in describing her mother’s living conditions on Facebook.

“Bugs are all over her kitchen cupboards, in their clothing and in the fridge, she has to buy food everyday for their meals cuz she can’t put any Food in the fridge or the cupboards because these bugs are infesting the whole house now.”

Pangman knows she’s at risk of being banned from coming into the community to see her mother. But she says she has to do something.

“Absolutely nothing is done for her to get help in this urgent matter!  I only took these videos in her kitchen no where else, cuz I got sick, the black spots u see are the eggs and bugs are growing bigger, they are all over the walls behind the fridge and stove,” she added in her post.

“I know I will piss of some ppl because of this but nothing is being done so I decided to put it here.”

Chief Eric Redhead (left) receives congratulations on his election from AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

A former chief said the band had a contract with a Winnipeg-based exterminator to regularly spray infested homes.

But he said it was cancelled after Redhead first came into office two years ago.

The Elder’s council has since been disbanded and the community radio station also shuttered.

Kevin Hart is the Manitoba regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations and holds the national housing portfolio for the advocacy organization.

He said things may sound bad in Shamattawa but it’s not a crisis.

Band members regularly try to reach the chief via Facebook.

“The immediate need is everywhere,” Hart said in an interview. “We’ve had tarp houses out there.

“I’ve been to many of the (64) First Nations in Manitoba and I’ve seen Third World conditions in almost each and every one of them.”

Hart said he’s still trying to get a handle on exactly how many new houses are needed across Canada. And how many communities still need proper infrastructure for water and sewage.

“Every chief is very concerned about housing. It’s something I always hear from each of the chiefs,” he said.

 

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.