Lake St. Martin flood evacuees angry with house arsons
RCMP investigating 9 house fires on reserve, 4 of which are deemed to be arson
Several members of the Lake St. Martin First Nation who are displaced by the flood of 2011 are outraged by a string of fires that have destroyed their homes on the reserve.
RCMP believe fires that destroyed four homes at the First Nation last week were deliberately set.
But when officers and Manitoba's fire commissioner went to the community to investigate those fires, they discovered five more houses had been burned down.
Among the four fires deemed to be arson is a blaze that destroyed Lydia and Alex Marsden's house and all of their belongings on Sept. 30.
"Now I'm pretty hurt right now. Truthfully to say, I'm really hurt," Lydia Marsden said, her voice cracking, during a visit to the reserve this week.
"I lost all the pictures in there. I lost everything in that house."
What remains of the couple's home is a charred pile of rubble, bulldozed into a pile with dirt.
House wasn't damaged by flood
The Marsdens weren't at Lake St. Martin when the fire started — they and other flood evacuees from the First Nation have been staying temporarily in Winnipeg hotels for the past 2½ years.
The couple said their home was never flooded, but they had to leave their belongings behind when the entire reserve was evacuated in the spring of 2011.
The reserve was condemned a year ago, and Chief Adrian Sinclair said members were notified months ago that all homes will be demolished.
Lydia Marsden said she told the chief at a band meeting, three days prior to the fire, that she didn't want her home torn down because it was not damaged and she still wanted to live there.
"I said, 'I don't want my house to be demolished.' And he jumped up right away and he told me, pointing a finger at me, he said, 'Whether you like it or not, your house is coming down,'" she said.
Alex Marsden said three days later, he got a phone call from someone who was at the reserve, saying his house was on fire.
Witnessed more fires
By the time he arrived at the First Nation, it was too late. But Alex Marsden said as he was surveying the damage, he witnessed more homes going up in flames.
"That was three houses within half an hour at that time," he said.
The Marsdens say they believe they were targeted because they did not want their house demolished.
Violet Ross also lost her home and possessions in one of the arson cases. Unlike the Marsdens, however, the remains of her home and belongings appear to have been buried or removed.
Sinclair told CBC News he doesn't know who started the fires, but he said the entire community is condemned and all houses must be demolished.
"They need to blame someone and I guess I'm the only one they have in mind to blame because, you know, I'm the leader," he said.
Sinclair said a new site for the reserve has been selected. There should be a vote on the project by March, he added.