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Support pouring in after fatal fire in Peawanuck

Minister says Indigenous Services Canada is available to help arrange supports for the family and community
Jennifer Wabano, Conrad Iahtail and two of her children. Their family's home burned down on Jan. 28 in Peawanuck.

Communities throughout the north are pulling together for a Peawanuck family who lost their home and their daughter in a fire over the weekend.

Ten people were living in the home devastated by the fire on Jan. 28 that claimed the life of a 10-year-old girl, according to the GoFundMe set up for the family.

The remote community in Northern Ontario is about 35 kilometres south of Hudson Bay. The community has no firefighting equipment, said Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus during a news conference earlier today

Randy Cota and his wife set up the fundraiser for the family to collect donations so they can begin to rebuild.

The GoFundMe’s goal is $10,000 and they've raised over $4,000 so far. Cota said whatever people can give will be amazing.

“If I could go up and build them a house, I would,” said Cota. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Tara Sloss works as a first responder in Peawanuck. She says the community is pulling together to support the family in their loss.

“Peawanuck is a small town so everybody knows everybody,” said Sloss. “We’re all family, but we’ve been hearing from people from all over that want to help and support the family.”

She has put together a raffle to raise some money for the family. Tickets are $20 and the prize is a round-trip flight from Timmins to any of the northern communities donated by Thunder Airlines.

She said that they’ve had messages from all over the north from people looking to either come to Peawanuck to support the family or make donations.

“There’s a group coming in from Attawapiskat, and emails from all over the place,” said Sloss. 

The family has been staying in the band office since the fire, with only the clothes on their backs, but donations of clothes and daily necessities have been pouring in from the community.

“We’re looking to move toward more monetary donations so when everyone goes home and the donations stop coming in, they have something to work with,” said Sloss. 

Angus sent his condolences to the Wabano family, who was affected by the blaze.

"How is it possible in Canada that … do not have the basic fire protection. It reminds us, it reminds me deeply, of the work that needs to be done. I will be following up. I reached out to the people of Peawanuck and I will be speaking with the Minister on how we have to address this inequity,” he said.

Minister of Indigenous Services Canada Patty Hajdu issued a statement on the fire today. 

“Tragically, a young girl lost her life in a house fire this past weekend in Peawanuck, and my thoughts are with the family and entire community following this heartbreaking loss," she said.

"On Sunday, I spoke with Chief Hunter to express my condolences and confirm that Indigenous Services Canada is available to help coordinate supports to the family and community. Our officials are in contact with Chief Hunter and Peawanuck and working with all partners in the region, including Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. We will provide more updates as they become available.”

The number of fires and fire deaths in First Nation communities is "absolutely unacceptable", says a statement from the Office of the Minister of Indigenous Services. 

"This tragedy underpins the crucial need for better fire safety resources, training, and support. To that end, we know more work is needed, and remain open to all options for improving fire safety on reserve," reads the statement. 

"We are working closely with the AFN to move forward on the First Nations Fire Protection Strategy, and last fall Minister Hajdu was able to meet with the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council last fall to continue this important work. In the coming weeks we are looking to hold a fire safety gathering in order to bring partners and experts from across the country together, and look at what tools can be implemented in the short, medium, and long terms to improve fire safety on reserve.”

Donations can be made on the GoFundMe page or by email through [email protected] or [email protected].

Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

About the Author: Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

Amanda Rabski-McColl is a Diversity Reporter under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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