by Lloyd Dolha
Freezing deaths prompts call for ban of alcohol in northern community
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says creating bylaws prohibiting alcohol on First Nations reserves is only a surface solution unless such laws are enacted with parallel, sustainable treatment programs.
“The agenda for First Nations people is to treat the person who is addicted – not to punish them,” said FSIN leader Chief Lawrence Joseph. “Filling up our jails is not the answer.”
Joseph voiced his concerns about the issue of dry reserves following the tragic freezing deaths of two Yellow Quill First Nations toddlers in late January. The dead children’s father, Christopher Pauchey, was said to have been heavily drinking the night of the children’s senseless freezing deaths.
Yellow Quill Chief Robert Whitehead, said its time his reserve bans alcohol on reserve in light of the tragedy, and has since announced the band will submit a proposal to the provincial and federal governments for a drug and alcohol treatment centre.
The reserve community, located some 260 kilometres east of Saskatoon, has suffered from the effects of high rates of alcoholism abuse, attempted suicides, unemployment and inadequate housing for decades.
In the early morning of January 30th, Pauchay, who was said to be heavily drinking by relatives, decided to take his two daughters – Kaydance 3, and Santana, 1 – to his sister’s home, when the youngest was struck with a possible illness just after midnight. With the two girls only wearing T-shirts and diapers, headed into the early morning on a path to his sister’s house as temperatures dropped to -50C from the wind chill. With no phone to call for help, he tried to run to his sister’s house 400 metres way. Christopher was found suffering from hypothermia and frostbite on his sister’s doorstep. The RCMP said when they arrived, Pauchay couldn’t communicate, and it wasn’t until eight hours later in the hospital that he asked to see his daughters, setting off the search that led to the discovery of the two children found frozen on the path.
The freezing deaths of the two young children has shone an unwelcome light on the “bankrupt” Saskatchewan. The band has had money troubles since 1999, when runaway deficits forced the federal government to put the reserve under third-party management to maintain basic services for its residents. It has remained in third-party management since.
“Basically we are a bankrupt community,” said Chief Whitehead. “I think we are going to need some help. The situation we are in, it’s a sad situation.”
Faced with increasing suicide rates, the band has recently tried to move ahead with a bylaw banning alcohol on the reserve, but the proper paperwork was never filed with the federal government.
Whitehead said the band held a vote in 2005 in which the majority endorsed a motion to make Yellow Quill a dry reserve , but Indian Affairs refused to certify the vote because it didn’t receive formal notice within four days of the balloting as required. The chief said the initial push for the ban came from elders upset about four suicides that occurred in a short period that year.
At least 14 of the 70 some Saskatchewan reserve communities have banned alcohol on reserves are in the north of the province.
But federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said such a ban would not likely solve the problem.
“It’s very complex. Sometimes these communities have a multitude of issues they’re dealing with. So just passing a bylaw doesn’t make the world alright.”
Since then, the Saskatchewan government has announced it will consider proposals for an addictions treatment centre for the First Nation.
“I believe that if the proposal looks like its going to be of value to the children, and that means all levels of government agree on it, there will be public support,” said Saskatchewan First Nations and Metis Relations Minister June Draude.