Saskatchewan

Cumberland House Chief says band office fire suspected arson

The fire started on the southwest side of the building and by 9 a.m. the building was fully engulfed in flames.

An 'insurmountable' amount of data was lost Monday during the fire, the band says

The northern community of Cumberland House can be seen on Google Maps. A fire that tore through the band office on Monday morning, damaging irreplaceable documents, was intentionally set, according to the community's Chief Rene Chaboyer. (Screen grab/Google Maps)

A fire at the Cumberland House Cree Nation band office that resulted in the loss of historical data and irreplaceable documents was set intentionally, according to the community's chief.

In an interview with CBC on Monday afternoon, Chief Rene Chaboyer said he felt the fire was a threat to the safety of councillors and band employees in the community, which is roughly 300 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert. 

"It's not the first time we've been threatened, so somebody decided today to take it to the next level," said Chaboyer.

The fire started on the southwest side of the building and by 9 a.m. the building was fully engulfed in flames.

Cumberland House said in a release that the local fire department could not control the progression of the fire and the Carrot River Fire Department was called in to assist. Carrot River is approximately 150 kilometres from the community.

Chaboyer said the community has trained several individuals to work security as a way to improve safety in the community, as roughly 20 employees worked at the band office.

He said parents in Cumberland House are also looking for a temporary childcare location, as the band office was also connected to a recently renovated daycare for the community. 

A satellite image of the area around Cumberland House in northern Saskatchewan shows the extent of the wilderness that surrounds the northern community. People in the community are currently working on a path forward after a fire that caused major damage to its band office on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

However, despite the fact the fire may have been lit intentionally, Chaboyer said his community will not flounder as they find a path forward.

"We will not be intimidated by any means," he said. "By no means will this falter us. We're are a very resilient people and it will just make us stronger. We'll move on from this." 

The office had a number of documents relating to finance, housing, income assistance, post-secondary student support, membership, daycare, justice, and chief and council administration.

Chaboyer said they'll be relocating to the community's old band office for the time being, noting insurance officials will be in the community tomorrow to assess the damage. 

He said many community members are already looking for ways to help as they deal with the fallout from the fire.

"In any event, good or bad, our community comes together," he said.

The Prince Albert Grand Council has sent its Saskatchewan First Nation emergency management team to help look into what the band needs and to help investigate the source of the fire.