Canada

St. Theresa Point asks for privacy to mourn and bury 2 teens found dead in Manitoba First Nation

St. Theresa Point Band Councilors (left) listen as Grand Chief Cathy Merrick (right) of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs speaks.  Elvin Flett, Chief of St. Theresa Point, is seated to Merrick's right, and next to him is Grand Chief Scott Harper of Anishininew Okimawin, who represents the four First Nations in the Archipelago area of ​​northeast Manitoba.  (Gary Solilak/CBC - photo credit)

St. Theresa Point Band Councilors (left) listen as Grand Chief Cathy Merrick (right) of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs speaks. St. Theresa Point Chief Elvin Flett is seated to Merrick’s right and next to him is Grand Chief Scott Harper of Anishininew Okimawin, who represents the four First Nations in the Archipelago region of northeast Manitoba. (Gary Solilak/CBC – photo credit)

The enduring pain and shock at St. Theresa Point is still aching after two 14-year-old girls were found dead earlier this month, with the First Nation chief Friday asking for privacy until the girls can be properly laid to rest.

“St. Theresa Point is a close-knit community with close family ties. The community is devastated,” Chief Elvin Flett said in a prepared statement delivered at a news conference in Winnipeg.

“Youth, especially young girls, are bearing the brunt of the tragedy.”

The two teenagers were found on the morning of March 1 outside a home on the First Nation, about 460 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg.

RCMP believe the girls were outside for a time on a night when the temperature dropped to -23C. They were taken to the nursing home, where they were pronounced dead.

As the community struggles to understand what happened, people have been taking calls from reporters for information and response, Flett said.

As the First Nation seeks to address mental health in the community, Flett worries the relentless questioning and reporting could spark similar incidents.

Fernand Detillieux/Radio Canada

Fernand Detillieux/Radio Canada

“It is important for the media and other interested parties to recognize that such tragedies provoke unexpected reactions. Therefore, special care is required to ensure the safety of our youth and the community at large,” he said.

“I urge all media to respect the privacy of the bereaved and the community at this time.”

While the autopsy results aren’t yet available, Flett reiterated Friday that he believes drug use was a factor in the teens’ deaths. The community, like others in its area, is facing a drug crisis fueled by the crystal meth trade in the area, he said.

The family of one of the girls has identified her as Dayna Shingoose and said she is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her mother, Ashlee Shingoose, who disappeared in Winnipeg nearly a year ago.

Funerals possible next week

Autopsies are being held in Winnipeg to determine the cause of death. Both girls’ families will then hold services in town before their bodies are returned to St. Theresa Point, Flett said.

They are hoping for a viewing this weekend and community funerals, possibly on Tuesday.

First Nations leaders will then hold a press conference to provide more details and plans for aggressive action to prevent further “unnecessary and premature deaths of our youth,” Flett said.

Fernand Detillieux/Radio Canada

Fernand Detillieux/Radio Canada

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, sitting next to Flett, urged governments to set up treatment and health centers in the Island Lake area, which she says has 18,000 people but few resources to help them.

“We shouldn’t bury our young people as parents. And all the trauma that comes with losing a loved one and how to let go, we don’t know how to do that in a good way,” she said.

St. Theresa Point is part of the four Island Lake First Nations, which also include Garden Hill, Wasagamack, and Red Sucker Lake.

There is a nursing station with a dental unit, but the nearest hospitals are in Norway House and Thompson. Many are also making hospital trips to Winnipeg, according to the regional health agency Four Arrows.

“It’s hard to understand that in a country like Canada … our First Nations will be begging for housing in 2023 [and] asking for help dealing with addiction and mental health,” Merrick said.

“I ask Canada to listen to and work with the leadership of St. Theresa Point to give them what they need in terms of well-being and in terms of the healing that needs to happen.”

She also pledged AMC’s support in whatever way St. Theresa Point is needed.

“I once again offer my condolences to the families of these two beautiful young girls and to the parishioners of St. Theresa Point,” she said. “Our hearts are with you.”

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