The chief of St. Theresa Point First Nation is making a plea for privacy after two 14-year-old girls froze to death in the northern Manitoba community on March 1.
Leaders of the close-knit First Nation, 465 km northeast of Winnipeg, said the whole community has been hit hard by the girls’ deaths.
It was -23 C when the girls’ bodies were discovered that morning and while they’re still awaiting the medical examiner’s report, Chief Elvin Flett believes drugs caused the girls’ deaths.
He said they need to be more aggressive to stop drugs from coming into the community.
“We have airports and we have no means to be allowed to search luggage because that’s portal, that’s where all the drugs go through is at the airport,” he told a news conference on Friday.
While there was shared grief at the news conference, there was also anger against the federal and provincial governments over health care funding.
Flett said because of drugs and the violence they cause, the community’s mental health funding is depleted halfway through the year.
“We don’t have enough resources to contain the issue that causes the drug influx into our community,” Flett said. “It’s a problem that continues to grow bigger and it affects every aspect of our lives, our safety, and we’re having a difficult time dealing with it simply because of that issue.”
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said this is why First Nations should be at the table when federal health transfers to the province are discussed and when the Manitoba government sets its budget.
“We know very well that our people are the ones that need the help most in our territories,” Merrick said. “The communities here, for many, many years, have asked the government to provide them with treatment centres, with health centres, with a hospital. With 18,000 people within their region – to no avail to this day.
“When the province of Manitoba announced their budget, did not even mention our people.”
Merrick said with the federal government currently trying to develop an action plan on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, First Nations should not have to beg for housing.
Merrick pointed to the lack of housing on reserve, as one of the reasons people are struggling, saying that the 3 or 4 houses allotted to any First Nation in a year will never be enough.
She hosted the first-ever Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Women’s gathering which concluded Friday and says the women and the communities know what they need.
“So, Canada must decide if it honestly shed its colonial ways on dictating to us what we need and bravely chart a new course.”
St. Theresa point is preparing to lay the two girls to rest next Tuesday.