Child advocate calls on First Nations, Ottawa to prioritize fire safety

Child advocate calls on First Nations, Ottawa to make fire safety a priority

The call came in response to the deaths of two children in a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation


LOON LAKE, Sask. – Saskatchewan’s child advocate says too many children have died in fires on reserves and aboriginal and government leaders need to get their act together.

Bob Pringle says children have a right to be safe in their homes.

“The issues have to be addressed or there’ll be a next time and a next time and a next time,” Pringle said Friday. “Adults, figure it out — it’s not rocket science.”

Pringle was responding to the latest tragedy in the province: the deaths of two children in a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation.

Two-year-old Harley Cheenanow and his 18-month-old sister, Haley, had been home with their grandmother when the fire started early Tuesday. The grandmother managed to get out of the house and, although the children’s father had arrived in time to carry them out, they didn’t survive.

RCMP were the only first responders that showed up to help.

The reserve has had a working fire truck for several years but has never used it. It isn’t properly equipped and no crew had ever been trained to use it.

The band had hired the volunteer fire department in a neighbouring village of Loon Lake, but was cut off services after the village said the band stopped paying its bills. The fire chief has said he got a call about the fire, but didn’t respond.

The decision has fuelled tension between the two communities and created debate in Ottawa about funding to reserves. Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has said Makwa Sahgaiehcan, like all other reserves, gets sufficient funding for fire services and it’s up to band officials to decide how the money is spent.

Pringle said the finger-pointing must stop. And he’s writing all sides a letter asking them to meet and work on solutions.

“We’ve kind of lost the focus on the children,” he said. “When we know there are systemic issues that continue to result in children dying, that says to me, ‘You know, do we really value children? Are their needs on the front burner?'”

Critics have pointed to poverty, outdated and overcrowded housing and a lack of fire prevention education as causes for fires on reserves.

Five children died in fires on Saskatchewan First Nations last year, Pringle said. Last month, a 10-year-old boy and his adult sister were unable to get out of a burning home on the English River First Nation.

Eric Sylvestre, chief of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council that represents Makwa Sahgaiehcan and other First Nations in the area, has ordered an inventory of fire services on the reserves. He also met Thursday with an Aboriginal Affairs official and asked that more be done to ensure they have what they need.

It’s time for action, Sylvestre said, not “to argue about funding and placing of blame.”

The office of the province’s fire commissioner said investigators are still trying to determine the cause of Tuesday’s fire.

Kent Stewart, Saskatchewan’s chief coroner, has said a decision will then be made about whether to hold an inquest into the deaths. He said no inquest has ever been held into a child’s death in a fire on a Saskatchewan reserve.


Child advocate calls on First Nations, Ottawa to make fire safety a priority

  1. Canada’s GDP [2008] $1.8T USD

  2. Indian bands are given money for fire services, spend it elsewhere (on band council vacations) and then complain?

    • Ahh BB is back to give out more Alberta wisdom I see. LOL

      • FOEO

        • Your answer to everything….except it solves nothing.

          • Incessant nonsensical blathering is all Emily ever has to offer.

  3. Laurie Lehoux, the village administrator for Loon Lake and the bookkeeper for the volunteer fire department, said the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation had been without a contract since last September after failing to pay bills to the department.

    Lehoux said prior to October 2012, Makwa Sahgaiehcan had been paying an annual retainer of $5,000 to the Loon Lake fire department.

    Since the expiry of that contract, the First Nation had been billed for services on a per-fire basis.

    Lehoux said the per-fire contract was also cancelled last September after the band refused to pay $3,360.89 it owned Loon Lake for fire services. Lehoux said the band was informed in a letter dated Jan. 30, 2015, that there would be no fire service to their First Nation from that date forward.

    “There was a letter sent from the Loon Lake fire department to the band informing them that had no longer had fire services … If they didn’t see that, I don’t know what they are doing with their mail,” Lehoux said.

    • What kind of people refuse to save children from a fire…bills or not?

      • Members of the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, that’s who.

  4. Comment from the Star Pheonix;

    Vincent Clement · Top Commenter · Windsor, Ontario
    Samuel Minde The “firefighter” you speak off was at least 10 minutes away and when the RCMP called Loon Lake, the house was already fully engulfed, meaning there was nothing that the Look Lake volunteer fire department could do. What happened to the Fire Truck that this First Nation owns?

  5. A recent access-to-information request by The Canadian Press shows Makwa Sahgaiehcan was given just over $11,000 for fire protection in each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 fiscal years.

    An email from the office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the reserve got $40,000 for fire services this year. It also said records show the reserve has its own fire hall and truck.