St. Theresa Point asks for privacy to grieve and bury 2 teens found dead in Manitoba First Nation
The ongoing hurt and shock in St. Theresa Point is still painfully raw after two 14-year-old girls were found dead earlier this month, with the First Nation's chief pleading Friday for privacy until the girls can be properly laid to rest.
"St. Theresa Point is a close-knit community with close family connectivity. The community is devastated," Chief Elvin Flett said in a prepared statement delivered at a news conference in Winnipeg.
"The youth, especially young girls, are bearing the brunt of the tragedy."
The two teens were found outside a home on the First Nation, about 460 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, on the morning of March 1.
RCMP believe the girls were outside for a period of time on a night when the temperature dropped to –23 C. They were taken to the nursing station, where they were pronounced dead.
As the community struggles to comprehend what happened, people have been fielding calls from reporters for information and reaction, Flett said.
With the First Nation trying to address mental health in the community, Flett worries the relentless questioning and reporting could trigger similar incidents.
"It is important for media and other interested parties to realize that such tragedies create unexpected reactions. Therefore, extra diligence is required to ensure the safety of our youth and community as a whole," he said.
"I am requesting all media outlets to respect the privacy of the bereaved families and community at this time."
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While autopsy results are not yet available, Flett repeated on Friday that he believes drug use was a factor in the deaths of the teens. The community, like others around it, is facing a drug crisis fuelled by crystal meth being trafficked into the region, he said.
The family of one of the girls has identified her as Dayna Shingoose and said she was struggling to cope with the loss of her mother, Ashlee Shingoose, who disappeared in Winnipeg nearly a year ago.
Funerals possible next week
Autopsies to determine the cause of the deaths are taking place in Winnipeg. The families of both girls will then hold services in the city before their bodies are taken back to St. Theresa Point, Flett said.
They are hoping for a viewing this weekend and funerals in the community, possibly on Tuesday.
Following that, the First Nations leaders will hold a news conference to provide more details and plans for aggressive measures to prevent more "needless and premature deaths of our youth," Flett said.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who sat beside Flett, called on governments to establish treatment and health centres in the Island Lake area, which she says has 18,000 people but few resources to help them.
"We should not be burying our young people, as parents. And all that 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 and dental station, but the nearest hospitals are located in Norway House and Thompson. Many also make hospital trips to Winnipeg, according to the Four Arrows Regional Health Authority.
"It's hard to comprehend that in a country like Canada … that in 2023, our First Nations have to beg for housing [and] ask for help in dealing with addictions and mental health," Merrick said.
"I ask Canada to listen to the leadership of St. Theresa Point and work with them, provide them what they need in terms of the wellness, in terms of the healing that needs to happen."
She also pledged the AMC's support in whatever way St. Theresa Point needs.
"I'm again offering my condolences to the families of these two young beautiful girls and the community members of St. Theresa Point," she said. "Our hearts are with you."
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