THUNDER BAY: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler is calling for a widespread mobilization of all available services as Mishkeegogamang First Nation struggles to cope with the aftershock of a tragic house fire that has devastated the community.
“It has been just over two weeks since this terrible loss and the full extent of the devastating impacts have slowly grown into a crisis. Chief, Council and support workers are working at maximum capacity and require immediate assistance from all available agencies to help them deal with this tragedy,” said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Fiddler. “All available services were sent to support the community immediately after the fire, but leadership and front-line workers are simply overwhelmed and require additional support and relief.”
A mother, her two young daughters and her nephew perished on February 13 after a fire broke out in the family home in the early morning hours.
Faced with overwhelming demand, Chief and Council declared a State of Emergency yesterday, stating that the widespread trauma has been compounded by a persistent significant shortage of services and resources. Mishkeegogamang leadership, community workers, police officers, and mental health and crisis management personnel are operating at maximum capacity but fear the situation will worsen without an immediate injection of additional resources.
There has been an increase in substance abuse, medical and mental health issues due to unresolved grief and trauma and residents are being medivaced daily from the community. Volunteer crisis teams from area communities assisted immediately after the fire, and ongoing efforts are being coordinated by NAN in cooperation with health providers and government agencies.
There is an immediate need for more counseling services, and there is particular concern for the physical and mental health of the children who do not have adequate coping mechanisms or the ability to deal with their emotions in traumatic situations.
“Chief and Council are grateful for the assistance that has been provided so far but we are urging the federal and provincial governments to deploy all appropriate resources to ease the burden on front-line workers and help leadership stabilize the community,” said Fiddler. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims and our hearts go out to the Mishkeegogamang community as they struggle to cope with this terrible loss.”
Mishkeegogamang is located approximately 320 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. Like many remote First Nations, the majority of homes are substandard and rely on dangerous wood stoves for heat. The community has developed a program to improve the safety of wood stoves but lacks the resources to retrofit all homes. Twenty-six people have lost their lives in house fires in Mishkeegogamang since 1981.