Investigators look for answers in baby’s death on Alberta First Nation

RCMP were still looking Thursday into why a baby girl died and 14 others were taken to hospital from a crowded home on an Alberta First Nation, which had recently been hit hard with the flu.

Police and paramedics were called a day earlier to check on a child in medical distress on the Wesley First Nation, one of three reserves that make up the Stoney Nakoda First Nation near Morley, about 60 kilometres west of Calgary.

The four-month-old was declared dead at the scene and the others in the house were found suffering from influenza-like symptoms.

Ten children and four young adults were taken to hospital with respiratory issues. By Thursday afternoon, two of the adults had been released. A two-year-old girl was in serious but stable condition.

“It’s certainly something that hits you right in the heart,” said Rob Lahache, CEO of the Wesley First Nation.

He said the family is “obviously in shock and in grief” and that many in the tight-knit community are feeling for them.

The 15 who fell ill had all been living in the modest home, he added, which would have contributed to the spread of germs. Many people on the reserve have been knocked down with the flu and children were home from school this week for spring break, he said.

“It could be a very strong possibility that it’s the flu or a virus of some sort because there’s a lot of it going around,” Lahache said. “But at this point, officially we don’t know.”

RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters said tests were being done to confirm the illness and an autopsy on the baby was scheduled Friday.

“It will be a matter of trying to figure out what has gone on here,” Peters said. “It’s going to be slow.”

Those taken to hospital were not quarantined and it doesn’t appear residents from nearby homes are at risk, Peters added.

Lahache said the First Nation will allow all appropriate agencies to follow policy and conduct their own investigations after the RCMP is done.

One will be handled by Health Canada, which reached out almost immediately after the child’s death was reported, he said.

“They wanted to know if it would be OK if they could get in and conduct an investigation,” said Lahache. “They were told absolutely.”

Peters says it’s not unusual for people to fall ill, but having 15 in the same house is.

“I understand why people are wondering,” he said. “So are we and we’ve got to figure it out.”

Officials said federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde had spoken with the reserve’s Chief Ernest Wesley.

Philpott has offered support to the community and is monitoring the situation, said a spokesman.

Premier Rachel Notley said provincial officials are also keeping an eye on developments.

“My heart breaks for the tragic loss of the young child,” she said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the family, the community and the front-line workers.”

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