NAN, Kiiwetinoong MPP, call for action on fire safety
Tim Brody - Editor
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum and the Executive Council, as well as Sol Mamakwa, Kiiwetinoong MPP and Ontario NDP Critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations and Northern Development, are calling for action on fire safety following a fatal house fire on Feb. 22 in Pikangikum First Nation.
“We are praying for the families, Chief Shirley Lynne Keeper and Council, and the entire Pikangikum community. We also acknowledge the first responders and all those who have visited the community to assist. We take comfort knowing that our people are supporting one another as we always do in times of need,” a statement from Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum and the Executive Council issued on March 1 states.
“It is outrageous that we must plead with our Treaty partners every time an innocent life is lost. Nice words are said, but very little is done. We do not need condolences or sympathy from the governments of Ontario and Canada. We need action. Immediately. Before any more lives are lost.
“Please join us in sharing love and prayers with the family and the Pikangikum community over the difficult days ahead.”
“NAN is still grieving the loss of a 10-year-old girl in a house fire in Weenusk First Nation (Peawanuck) in January,” NAN shared.
NAN shared, “Amber’s Fire Safety Campaign was endorsed by Chiefs-in-Assembly in 2016 to promote fire safety and awareness in all NAN First Nations. The campaign is named in memory of Amber Strang, the youngest victim of the March 29, 2016, fire in Pikangikum that claimed nine lives, including three generations of Amber’s family.
“NAN submitted a three-year proposal to Indigenous Services Canada in 2022 to continue this Campaign’s work to provide smoke detectors to all homes and educate members on fire safety. A verbal agreement from Indigenous Services Canada for one-year of funding was only received this week, after four people have lost their lives in NAN First Nation communities in the past month.”
In a Feb. 27 news release Mamakwa shared, “Pikangikum fire crews were unable to douse the flames because the community’s two fire trucks were frozen, as they do not have a fire hall to store them.”
“The recent disaster to claim lives in Pikangikum is one of the many tragic outcomes caused by house fire in First Nations,” said Mamakwa. “The Ford government has done nothing to bring urgently needed fire protection or meet the investment demands for infrastructure needed to save lives and prevent future tragedies.
Mamakwa said Wunnumin Lake, Fort Severn, Mishkeegogamang, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Peawanuck, and Sandy Lake First Nations have all experienced the same avoidable fatalities as Pikangikum since 2013.
“Studies have long shown that members of First Nations are ten times more likely to die in a house fire than people living in the rest of Canada. Ontario’s chief coroner reported in 2021, First Nation children under 10 had a fire-related mortality rate 86 times greater than non-First Nation children,” Mamakwa’s news release informed.
“These First Nations do not need more moments of silence, thoughts, and prayers,” said Mamakwa.
“First Nations know this could have been prevented with more investments toward community needs. Again and again, we have experienced these types of fires with no initiative taken by the government to put a plan in place to reduce the loss of life. Actions must be taken to avoid more preventable tragedies. We cannot use jurisdiction as an excuse not to do anything. Enough is enough.”
NAN Grand Chief Derek Fox, who the organization said has been suspended with pay due to alleged violations of the NAN Executive Council Code of Conduct, says in a statement that he has been, "wrongfully and possibly defamed by statements that are untrue."