Manitoba

'RCMP should not criminalize' boy, 12, accused in Shamattawa fire, chief says

RCMP want to charge a preteen accused of setting the only grocery story and band office in a northern Manitoba First Nation on fire, but one chief says criminalizing youth is not the answer.

Lone fire truck broken, unable to help douse fire in Northern Store, band office

Nearly everyone in Shamattawa was attending a community funeral when six children are believed to have set fire to the band office and only store in Sept. 2016. (Facebook/Robert Rezhead)

RCMP want to charge a preteen accused of setting the only grocery store and band office in a northern Manitoba First Nation on fire, but one chief says criminalizing youth is not the answer.

"The onus is on the families in the community and leadership to ensure that the RCMP are not trying to criminalize young people," Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief, told reporters Friday afternoon at a news conference in Winnipeg.

A 12-year-old boy from the community was one of six children who RCMP believe were involved in setting the blaze on Thursday afternoon. The other five children are under 12 and cannot be charged.

Nepinak said he would like to see the Manitoba and federal governments help develop a fire prevention program on First Nations to educate youth about fire safety.

"There's a number of confounding factors that can be looked upon in this instance in this community: a lack of infrastructure for youth, a lack of opportunity, a lack of alternatives to make sure that our young people can flourish," Nepinak said.

"[Those] are factors that should be considered when we look at the choices that the young people are making."

A remote Manitoba First Nation has declared a state of emergency after a fire destroyed the community's only grocery store along with its band office Thursday. 0:20

Community officials confirmed Friday that the lone fire truck in the community, which was brand new, was broken and could not be used to douse the blaze.

Most of the community was at a funeral when the building went up in flames.

Both the store and adjacent band office were already seriously damaged by the time firefighters arrived. They were able to use a nearby fire hydrant to help extinguish the fire, Shamattawa Chief Jeffrey Napaokesik said Thursday.

A state of emergency was declared Thursday night, as the remote fly-in community relies on the local North West Company store for groceries and supplies, Shamattawa councillor Liberty Redhead said.

"It's tragic that we have to be in this situation, that we are in this situation at the moment," Redhead said. "This is one of the factors of being an isolated and remote community."

The Winnipeg-based northern supplier said it plans to ship food and other items to the community, located roughly 750 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, on Friday afternoon.

Christine Reimer, vice-president of sales with the North West Company, said it plans to fly up supplies to build a temporary store they hope will be open within the next week.

Workers with the North West Company load up a plane with food and supplies headed for Shamattawa, Man., Friday afternoon. (CBC)

"It is a significant loss to Shamattawa as the community relies on the store for their essential everyday groceries. Right now our priority is to address the immediate needs of the community," Reimer said in a statement.

"We are co-ordinating our relief efforts with the Canadian Red Cross to ensure that the impact to the community is minimized."

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said it was very fortunate no one was injured. 

"The community is in a state of shock and they need a lot of help right now," North Wilson said.

Donations for the community were dropped off at the weekly Meet Me at the Bell Tower gathering in Winnipeg's North End on Friday night.

Winnipeggers dropped of food and other donations for the First Nation community of Shamattawa on Selkirk Avenue Friday at the weekly Meet Me at the Bell Tower event. The only store in the remote northern Manitoba community was destroyed in a fire Thursday. 0:47

With files from Jill Coubrough