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A family photo taken in December with Santa Claus shows, from left, Christopher Pauchay, Santana Pauchay, Tracey Jimmy and Kaydance Pauchay. ((Troy Fleece/Canadian Press))

A Saskatchewan First Nation reeling from the deaths of a baby and her three-year-old sister, who were left outside in the bitter cold, was trying to declare itself a dry community, the reserve's chief said Thursday.

The Yellow Quill First Nation reserve is struggling to come to terms with the deaths of Kaydance and Santana Pauchay after their frozen bodies, dressed only in T-shirts and undergarments, were discovered in the snow a day apart.

The girls' father, Christopher Pauchay, 25, was taken early Tuesday from a neighbour's house to hospital for treatment of frostbite and hypothermia. He is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

Investigators are trying to piece together what occurred in the five hours between the father leaving the house and reaching his neighbour's doorstep, the CBC's Kaveri Bittira said Thursday from Saskatoon.

With temperatures that felt as cold as –50 C with wind chill in some areas that night, police did not know at the time that the girls were missing.

Because of his injuries, the father wasn't able to speak until about eight hours later. When he did speak to investigators at about 1:30 p.m., he asked about his daughters.

The Globe and Mail quoted the man's older sister, Bernita Pauchay, as saying he had been drinking heavily on Monday night.

She said he was trying to take the children to a relative's house about 400 metres away because "there was something wrong" with one of them.

The RCMP have only said alcohol may have been a factor. Christopher Pauchay has been taken to a Saskatoon hospital where police are expected to interview him again on Thursday.

'Dry' bylaw missed mail deadline, says chief

The bylaw to declare the reserve dry failed more than a year ago after reserve officials were slow in getting information to the federal Indian Affairs Department, Chief Robert Whitehead of the Yellow Quill Tribal Council told CBC News on Thursday.

"We've started a process here on the reserve that we wanted to have a dry reserve," he said, acknowledging the reserve has struggled with the effects of alcohol abuse and suicide.

"It's been ongoing in my mind, and of course kept me awake half the night."

The motion passed a plebiscite and a quorum between the chief and the tribal council, despite "some resistance" from one member, Whitehead added.

But then, according to the chief, the reserve received a letter from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada informing them that the documents were not mailed as required within four days of its enactment.

"The only thing we did wrong was that we didn't mail anything out in time," he said, adding that the council will try again to ban alcohol from the reserve.

'No record'

But Margot Geduld, spokeswoman for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, told CBCNews.ca on Thursday that the department did not receive the bylaw notice.  

"We have no record of any such thing being sent in from Yellow Quill," Geduld said. 

She also said the department had no knowledge or record of any letter being sent to the reserve.

Under the Indian Act, a reserve seeking to ban the sale, purchase and possession of alcohol must draft a bylaw, which requires approval from 51 per cent of residents attending a special meeting, Geduld said.

Then bylaw comes into immediate effect once it is enacted by the chief and council in a quorum, but a copy of the bylaw must be mailed to INAC within four days.

Guy Lonechild, executive vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, raised concerns over how dry bylaws get approved. 

He also called on Health Minister Tony Clement to intervene to ensure mental health services needs in the communities are met.

Many questions

The success record for the dry community bylaws has been "hit and miss," Lonechild said, but could be improved with more federal help for programs such as counselling and treatment.

"The passing of the bylaws doesn't mean that the problem's going to go away, but the services need to be put in place for healing," Lonechild told CBC News on Thursday. "We don't have those types of services readily available."

On Thursday, the reserve's residents were still trying to understand how the two sisters could have been left to die in a frozen field.

"A lot of people are still in shock, stunned by the tragic events of what happened," Whitehead said. "A lot of people are asking questions."

The chief said he has visited the family since the tragedy.

"I went to their place, sat with them," Whitehead said. "They were mostly pretty quiet, but they haven't said anything."