CROSS LAKE, Minn. — Manitoba’s premier says a house fire that killed three children from a northern First Nation should never have happened.
Heather Stefanson visited the Pimicikamak Cree Nation Wednesday to share her condolences and support the grieving family.
"From the bottom of my heart, as a mother myself, I can’t imagine what you are going through today with the loss of these three angels," Stefanson said in the community about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
"We are here to help you heal. We are here to help you through this absolutely horrific and tragic time."
The children, who were two, 13 and 17, died in the fire on Saturday.
RCMP have said four other people in the house — a 36-year-old man, a 36-year-old woman, a 20-year-old woman and a four-year-old girl — were able to escape through a window.
RCMP said First Nation safety officers had attempted to get into the home through a window but were pushed back by the heat. The intensity of the blaze turned back Mounties as well.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Stefanson, along with Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere, met with Pimicikamak Chief David Monias, community members, and the family after kicking off the Trapper’s Festival in The Pas earlier in the day.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who represents northern First Nations and who is from Pimicikamak, joined the premier.
Stefanson said she wants to prevent a similar tragedy.
"It’s absolutely horrific that it has happened. And we do want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again," she said.
Stefanson said it was her first visit to a First Nation since she became premier in November.
A Statistics Canada study found First Nations people living on reserves were 10 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people.
A 2014 inquest into the deaths of three children and a grandfather in house fires on remote northern Manitoba reserves found poor housing infrastructure contributed to the fatal blazes.
Monias has previously said the fatal fire shows a need for housing support in Pimicikamak and called on the federal government for help.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2022.
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
The Canadian Press