RCMP have arrested a man after an attack left a six-year-old girl lying naked and severely injured in the snow on a reserve west of Edmonton.

The girl was tobogganing with others Saturday afternoon on the Paul First Nation. She left the group after being told to go home and change into dry clothes, a family member told CBC News.

'It shouldn’t happen around here. Not to a child. Not to anyone for that matter.'
- James Rein, elder

The girl was attacked and brutally beaten. Family members found her in the snow, naked and suffering from hypothermia. One relative said the little girl was so badly beaten that family members didn't initially recognize her.

The girl was flown to hospital by STARS air ambulance around 5 p.m. MT. The girl is in critical but stable condition, RCMP said.

Investigators from RCMP and Edmonton Police Service's major crimes unit cordoned off a large area of the reserve Sunday afternoon, centred around where the girl was found. Investigators were seen gathering evidence from behind a nearby gas station.

The Paul First Nation sent a message on behalf of the family on Sunday asking for privacy. 

"We trust the family’s wishes will be fully respected so they can focus all of their energy, attention and prayers on the victim’s immediate well-being and what we are all hoping and praying will be a speedy and full recovery," the release said. 

'It’s on everybody’s minds'

News of the attack spread quickly through the tight-knit reserve. People crowded the pews of the First Nation’s Baptist church Sunday morning, offering prayers for the young girl.

‘It’s on everybody’s minds,” said Pastor Dan Crumbaugh.

Jame Rein-paul band

Elder James Rein says information about the attack spread quickly through the Paul First Nation. He thinks there needs to be a greater police presence on the reserve. (CBC)

“It brings us to the realization that it could happen at any time, to anyone.”

Elder James Rein, who knows the little girl, said the community has been rocked by the news.

He said information about the attack has spread quickly through the community. But it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that he heard how badly the girl had been injured.

“I heard something about it last night. I didn’t know who, I didn’t know where.”

Rein thinks the reserve needs a better police presence.

“It shouldn’t happen around here. Not to a child. Not to anyone, for that matter.”

RCMP have not released the identities of the girl or the man arrested. Charges are pending.