by F.P. Favel for Indigenous Times News

Chief Duane Antoine
Chief Duane Antoine, dosage Poundmaker Cree Nation

Fire safety on First Nations has been on the minds of many in light of the recent tragedy that took place at Makwa Sahgaiehcan on February 17, troche 2015, when a house fire took the lives of two young children. A call had been made to the town of Loon Lake fire department just next door to the community but the fire marshal and mayor declined to come to aid on the grounds that the First Nation was $3380.89 in arrears from past services. The refusal to come to the FN caused a great controversy across the Nation especially when you consider that the lives of two children were lost simply due to $3380.89 being in arrears.

“This tragedy makes it apparent that we need to take more control over our services,” stated Poundmaker band councillor Colby Tootoosis. “We as a First Nation are doing all we can to prevent any such tragedy taking place in our community due to lack of communication or misunderstandings.”

Deaths from fires, and fires in general, are higher on First Nations than in any non-First Nation communities making fire prevention strategies that much more crucial. There has been much finger pointing and blame being laid by both sides, some blaming the Feds, and others placing the blame on the First Nation themselves. Such finger pointing does not lead to positive solutions though.

This tragedy caused much soul searching amongst society in general and has led many First Nations, including the Poundmaker Cree Nation, to begin to implement more stringent firefighting strategies. First Nations receive approximately $45,000 per year from Ottawa for firefighting, prevention and training; this includes a fire hall, fire truck etc. Many First Nations leaders say that these monies are not enough and it is the lack of resources that can lead to fire tragedies.

Poundmaker has a working fire truck and an on call driver, Joey Antoine. as well as an on-call volunteer firefighting unit. Poundmaker has always had an active community support system in place regarding fires, mostly grass and brush fires and there has been very few house fires due to the fact that houses are properly maintained and inspected by the First Nation. Overcrowding is one of the reasons behind housing problems and fires, but this is not an issue on Poundmaker. In a recent study, Poundmaker was found to have an average of six occupants per unit -- low when compared to other First Nations.

“We try our best with what limited resources we have,” Chief Duane Antoine explained.

Poundmaker is presently working out a firefighting agreement with the local town of Cut Knife and the details are currently being worked out. Poundmaker is but one example of a community that has always had a traditional fire fighting strategy in place and at the same time, working out a contemporary strategy by dialogue with local non- First Nations communities to ensure the safety of all of their residents. •

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