First Nations Freeze Contract Work Amid Kidnap Suspicions

SUPPLIED PHOTO A 26-year-old St. Theresa Point First Nation woman said she was grabbed while walking on the shoreline. RCMP would not confirm or deny the allegation.

SUPPLIED PHOTO: A 26-year-old St. Theresa Point First Nation woman said she was grabbed while walking on the shoreline. RCMP would not confirm or deny the allegation.

Winnipeg Free Press

Kidnap Claim Rattles Reserve

An alleged kidnapping attempt in a northern Manitoba community has prompted two First Nations chiefs to suspend contract work in the area.

Earlier this week in St. Theresa Point First Nation, a 26-year-old woman was walking along the shoreline in the wee hours when some men allegedly grabbed her and forced her into a boat. She was allegedly transferred into another boat before she managed to jump out and swim to shore.

“She was drenched from head to toe — that’s undeniable. She was in the water, and she said she swam a distance to the shoreline,” said St. Theresa Chief David McDougall, who is also the woman’s cousin. In an email, a Manitoba RCMP spokesman said he could not confirm or deny officers are investigating.

The alleged abduction attempt has shaken the remote community, located on the shores of Island Lake about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. The community is still reeling from the unsolved homicide of a girl in neighbouring Garden Hill First Nation this spring.

St. Theresa Point residents believe the assailants were from elsewhere because the victim said they appeared to be Caucasian men, McDougall said. That led to heavy suspicion of contract construction workers involved in renovating the local Northern Store. As a result, the band has asked the contractors not to return until the community can ensure the safety of residents and the workers, teaming with Garden Hill First Nation and Wasagamack First Nation to improve security for all three lakeside communities, which have a combined population of about 10,000.

“We’re on edge but we’re still trying to continue on, and the best way we can is to try to be as vigilant as possible in making sure everybody’s safe,” McDougall said.

Construction work has been temporarily shut down in the area even though the construction company’s president says accusations against the workers are unfounded.

Brett Arnason, president of Arnason Industries, said three or four non-local workers on the St. Theresa Point crew were away on their weekend break at the time, but that hasn’t stopped rumours from flying on Facebook.

“There were some accusations made about an abduction, but none of our people were in the community at the time, so it wasn’t us,” he said, adding the company is co-operating with police and with the band.

“It isn’t as though we were chased out of the community; we just didn’t go back, because we were already home. There’s no point in going back into a volatile situation. We just are waiting for the police to finish their investigation.”

Meanwhile, Northern Store renovations in St. Theresa Point and soil decontamination work in Garden Hill are at a standstill.

“It’s not a large crew; it’s not a huge inconvenience for us. It’s far more important to us that they get to the bottom of it and solve the problem than I am worried about a few days of work up there. I’d rather stay away and let them work out the issues, find out what caused this situation and make sure everybody works in a safe environment,” Arnason said.

Garden Hill Chief Arnold Flett said he supported his counterparts in St. Theresa Point by putting contract work on hold in his community, and would like to see contracting companies provide criminal-record checks before bands allow workers back in.

“People that come to the community to work, they can work, but we want to know what kind of background they have,” Flett said.

He said he hoped to be able to allow workers back by the end of the week, but is holding off “until we get things in order.”

On May 11, the remains of 11-year-old Teresa Robinson were found in a forested area of Garden Hill First Nation. While residents initially thought she was mauled by an animal, police later declared her death a homicide. No charges have been laid, and the case remains unsolved.

Since then, there have been at least three reports of people being followed home at night by unknown vehicles, Flett said, and reports of boats in the lake through the night.

“It is very concerning within the community and (for) the council and myself, because the people are still on edge. They’re edgy, and anything like that that happens, even in St. Theresa, it’s kind of brought back those fears and wanting some results,” he said.

McDougall said he’d like to see the Island Lake First Nations develop a kind of coast guard to protect their communities.

“I know that there’s a lot of places where people are still missing without a trace. What is going on here? It might be isolated cases, sure, but I think we need to set up a system where you can have protocols in place that are suitable for each section of the province,” he said.

“It’s almost like we have to be set up like a coast guard.”