By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The chief of a remote First Nation in northeastern Manitoba is calling for his community to have policing powers and a coroner’s inquest into the death of two 14-year-old girls.
The teens were found on March 1 outside a home in St. Theresa Point First Nation and taken to a nursing station where they were pronounced dead, RCMP said. It is believed the girls were outside for an extended period.
The community identified the girls as Dayna Shingoose and Emily Mason.
Chief Elvin Flett said Friday that the girls likely died of hypothermia as temperatures dipped to -23 C overnight, but believes drug use played a role in their deaths.
He wants the federal and Manitoba governments to enter into a trilateral agreement with St. Theresa Point to address the growing drug problem in the community.
“St. Theresa Point is in a state of drugs and addiction crisis,” Flett said at a news conference in Winnipeg. “Such crises will result in more needless deaths, escalating health costs and continued rise of criminal activity from distribution and traffickers.”
The families and the community have spiralled into a paralysis of grief and disbelief as they try to figure out next steps, he added.
The community has held ceremonies to help with the grieving process, Flett said.
He said the First Nation has lost confidence in the RCMP’s ability to investigate the deaths and stop drug trafficking in the community.
Flett said a special coroner’s inquest could investigate the deaths, examine present drug enforcement strategies and make recommendations to address the rampant trafficking of drugs and other harmful substances.
The community also wants an external police service to investigate the deaths.
“In these two deaths, failure by authorities to pursue and name charges to drug distributors who are responsible for the death is a failure of the legal system,” Flett said.
RCMP said Mounties continue to investigate the deaths and are waiting on autopsy results and toxicology reports. Officers have spoken with witnesses to determine what happened before the girls’ bodies were discovered.
“We share the concern of the chief of St. Theresa Point First Nation about the proliferation of illicit drugs and other intoxicants within the community,” Manitoba RCMP spokesman Robert Cyrenne said in a statement.
“Targeting and dismantling drug traffickers, especially those who ship drugs from major centres and into remote communities, remains a priority for the Manitoba RCMP.”
St. Theresa Point is part of the Island Lake region, which has four First Nations. The community is accessible in winter by ice road or air in the summer.
Flett said the First Nation has seen the use of methamphetamine and prescription drugs grow in recent years.
Families from the area walked to Parliament Hill in 2018 to press the federal government Canada on the need for a treatment centre to serve the communities.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said communities have been crying out for help.
“For some time, drug traffickers are in our communities, and people are dying without any services to help them.”
Regional officials with Indigenous Services Canada have met with St. Theresa Point’s health director and are continuing to work with the community, Jennifer Cooper, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement. She added the department plans to reach out to leadership and other partners to discuss options to help the community.
St. Theresa Point is also asking for Manitoba’s Justice Department to work with it on conducting airport searches to prevent the flow of drugs into the community.
First Nations Safety Officers have been conducting sporadic luggage searches at the community airport, but Flett said the province told them that First Nation officials cannot conduct the searches because the airports are under provincial authority.
“We’ve reduced the amount of incidents that will happen with all the drugs that we’ve confiscated on our own,” he said.
A spokesman for the province said the random search of luggage raises a number of “complex constitutional issues that relate to privacy interests and constitutional rights.”
The province continues to advocate the federal government for long-term funding for First Nations policing in Manitoba, the spokesman added.