Vigil shows support for KI First Nation following fatal house fire
Tim Brody - Editor
More than 200 people visited the town beach on the evening of May 6 for a vigil in support of the people of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation.
On May 2, a house fire in KI claimed the lives of a family of five, Geraldine Chapman (47), Angel McKay (12), Carl Cutfeet (9), Hailey Chapman (7), and Shyra Chapman (6).
“There’s so many people affected in KI from the tragedy. We really wanted to demonstrate our love and support for community members… and honouring the family that were victims of the fire,” said Rachel Garrick, one of the organizers of the vigil.
Throughout the evening, songs and prayers of hope and support for the community were shared.
Candles were passed out and lit as part of the vigil.
Gary Quequish and his wife Chris were in the community when the tragedy occurred.
Both counsellors, Gary shared that he and his wife had been working 18 hour days trying to help people in the community.
“In the last three, four days, we’ve seen about 42 clients on a one to one basis and also over 100 family members,” he said. “We also saw those that were there when the house was burning, these people that were trying to save the victims inside the house. Most of these people are severely traumatized. We also had a debriefing session with the chief and council.”
“Most of the community members are impacted,” he stated.
“The school where the kids went to school, all of those kids in the grades that they were in were impacted along with school teachers,” he said.
“We heard people screaming, and yelling, and moaning, and crying. We saw it in elders and also parents and also children; these friends of Angel, and Carl, Hailey and Shyra and the mother, Geraldine.”
“It was very hard,” Chris Quequish agreed. “We saw a lot of people. I remember going into Geraldine’s house probably about a year ago, when I first got there. I saw all of her children at that time. I was talking with the oldest one, Angel, and I remember them.”
“It’s sad to see, when we went there, the house just burned right down to the ground. People were standing around and it was really emotional,” she shared.
Garrick, an Independent First Nations Alliance employee, has been in regular contact with the community of KI.
She thanked Irene Quedent as well as Darlene Angeconeb for their roles in helping make the vigil happen, as well as Shibogama First Nations Council employees Laura Semple and Jeff Bursey.
She also thanked Carrie Trout from Lac Seul’s Family Wellbeing Program for bringing the coffee and tea.
Volunteers from Firefly helped serve food and hot beverages during the vigil.
Charles Brown MC’d the vigil. Elder Priscilla Kakekaspan provided an opening prayer.
Pastor Carter Krahn of Calvary Baptist Church in Sioux Lookout also prayed for the community of KI during the vigil.
“Overall, I think it was a great demonstration of support and love,” Garrick said.
KI declared a state of emergency the day following the vigil.
Chief Donny Morris declared the emergency on the grounds that “this tragedy is having a devastating impact on the entire community, with continuing effects that require external support and financial assistance. We are feeling the crushing weight of this tragedy in our community and with our people.”
“Many youth and family members are suffering from mental health trauma in the wake of the loss, with some experiencing suicidal ideations. As a remote, far-north community KI lacks the resources to handle mental health care needed on this scale. With only one in-clinic crisis response team available they lack staff to handle those that need round the clock in-home attention,” a news release issued by the community informed.
“There are too many people to watch and not enough man-power to watch them.” said Chief Morris.
“The community has reached out to others for help, receiving it from a number of First Nations government organizations, which have been the quickest to respond. This includes Nishnawbe Aski Nation which has sent in crisis response teams, surrounding Tribal Councils, and Independent First Nations Alliance, the community’s Tribal Council, who has been helping to coordinate the response effort. The response team has been in contact with federal and provincial government representatives and expect some forthcoming support.
“The community has come together, not only for themselves, but for those providing assistance as well. The responders, supporters and family members coming into the community need food, shelter and stress relief. With a lack of infrastructure, such as hotels and restaurants, the community centre has been opened both to these and to any community members that feel they need support. There are meals, activities, and live music being offered as a source of relief. The community center acts as a community hub morning through night. It is estimated that this support is costing the community at least $10,000 per day and may not see reprieve until after the funerals of the five family members who perished in the fire,” the community’s news release informed.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing by members of the OPP North West Regional Crime Unit and OPP FIS under the direction of Detective Inspector Pete Liptrott of the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) in cooperation with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management.