By The Canadian Press
SHAMATTAWA, Man. – A 12-year-old boy has been charged with arson in the fire that destroyed the band office and only grocery store on the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba.
Six youngsters are believed to have been involved in setting the Sept. 22 blaze, but five of them are under the age of 12, so they can’t face charges.
The fire prompted a state of emergency on the remote reserve, leaving the 1,500 residents without supplies or emergency services.
Band officials and many other community members were at a funeral at the time the blaze broke out.
The community’s fire truck, less than two years old, was not functioning so firefighters had to battle the blaze using water from three nearby hydrants and a truck normally used to distribute water to homes.
A 2012 report done by the Manitoba fire commissioner’s office and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs pointed to inadequacies of fire protection in indigenous communities.
Of 61 Manitoba reserves surveyed for the report, almost one-third did not have a fire truck and 39 per cent did not have a fire hall.
There were no reported injuries in Shamattawa, but the fire prompted an urgent response from the Red Cross, which brought in supplies for a temporary store.
Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents First Nations communities in the province’s north, said rebuilding could be expensive and time-consuming because the community is only accessible by air, with the exception of a winter road some 190 kilometres long that is only open for a few months.