A 12-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed the only grocery store and the band office in the remote northern Manitoba community of Shamattawa and crippled some of its essential services.
The boy was one of six children who RCMP believe were involved in setting the blaze on Thursday afternoon. The other five children are under 12 and cannot be charged.
A state of emergency was declared in Shamattawa after the fire razed the Northern Store and the band office and damaged the community’s radio station and 911 service.
There is no road access to Shamattawa. All food and supplies must be flown into the isolated community, which is about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
- Shamattawa declares state of emergency
RCMP say officers from the Shamattawa detachment were called to a fire at the band office around 4 p.m. CT. By the time they arrived, the building — which housed both the band office and the store — was in flames.
Police officers and firefighters battled the blaze as it burned through the night, causing extensive damage to the building, police said in a release Friday.
Napaokesik said people were out of the band office to attend a funeral in the community when the fire was started.
“I suppose a kid slipped into the office, and we’re told that [the child] set one of the sofa chairs on fire,” he said.
“By the time anyone knew, there was smoke in the building and everybody evacuated.”
The 12-year-old has been released on a promise to appear in court. An RCMP spokesperson said the boy will be charged when he makes his first court appearance.
RCMP say the other five children who they believe were involved in starting the fire cannot be charged because the Youth Criminal Justice Act has set 12 as the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Police could not say how old the children were, except they were all under the age of 12.
Investigators with Manitoba’s Office of the Fire Commissioner is heading to the community on Friday.
Napaokesik said there have been a number of fires in Shamattawa in recent months, and he’s searching for answers about what happened in this case.
“I don’t have an answer for that one. We can only blame ourselves for not keeping things safe and, you know, patrolling the area and things of that nature,” he said.
Food, supplies being flown up
The Canadian Red Cross, which is providing assistance to Shamattawa on behalf of the federal government, loaded a shipment of water, food, infant formula and other supplies onto a Perimeter Aviation flight bound for the community on Friday afternoon.
The Winnipeg-based North West Company, which owns the Northern Store, says it is also sending pallets of food to Shamattawa, working with the Red Cross to co-ordinate flights.
“We’ll be delivering a shipment by air into the community that should arrive this afternoon and that will include staple food products … water, infant formula, some fruit and vegetables,” Derek Reimer, the North West Company’s director of business development, said Friday morning.
“We are looking at about six to eight pallets of food. I believe the aircraft can hold about 12,000 pounds, so it’s quite substantial,” he added. “Hopefully, it will be sufficient to meet the emergency needs of the community.”
The North West Company says a temporary Northern Store will be set up in Shamattawa within the next few days, although officials have not yet decided on its location.
The fire hit close to home for Michael Redhead Champagne, founder of the Winnipeg community group Aboriginal Youth Opportunities and an organizer of the weekly Meet Me at the Bell Tower gatherings.
“I was horrified,” said Redhead Champagne, whose home community is Shamattawa.
“It just makes me feel frustrated that those types of challenges continue to happen on First Nations, in our community, in our country.”
Redhead Champagne is encouraging people to bring donations to Friday’s Meet Me at the Bell Tower meet-up on Selkirk Avenue at 6 p.m.