Shamattawa First Nation declares state of emergency after suicides, fire devastate community

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The chief of the remote First Nation of Shamattawa has declared a state of emergency after a series of devastating events.

Jordna Hill cited the recent death by suicide of a young girl after her mother called RCMP for help and officers failed to take her daughter to the nursing station.

“So, this young girl was never properly assessed,” Hill said Monday. “Probably a week later or so, she (took her own life). And the mother was crying for help, and now…the mother (died by) suicide also.”

The RCMP, in a statement to APTN News, offered their “sincere condolences” and said they recognize the profound effect the double tragedy has had on the small community.

“We can confirm that the RCMP did respond to a residence in Shamattawa First Nation on January 17,” the RCMP said. “Officers spoke with a youth and her mother and offered assistance in transporting them both to the nursing station for follow-up care.

“On January 18, 2023, an RCMP officer met with a local medical professional and gathered additional information on resources the family could access. This information was then passed on to the family. The officer was also advised that additional resources were being sought for the youth.”

Hill said his community was already hurting from the loss of a nine-unit apartment building (by fire on March 9) that housed the elderly. Most of the tenants have been living with relatives, worsening the situation in already overcrowded homes.

Another familiar scenario is the First Nation’s fire truck was not working when the elders complex caught fire.

Adding to the crises is the remoteness of the community itself. Shamattawa, with 1,500 residents, is only accessible by air or winter road.

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the provincial and federal governments are failing First Nations, who are not asking for any more than any other Manitoban or Canadian.

She repeated her assertion that First Nations need to be at the table when the provincial government negotiates transfer dollars for health care.

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse agreed ending the crisis is going to take cooperation.

“Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister had met with all these provinces, including the province of Manitoba, talking about our health needs. And there’s these big figures out there, and yet they don’t even want to talk to First Nations,” Woodhouse said.

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