’It got worse:’ Evacuation criticized after First Nation surrounded by fire

People from the Paungassi First Nation watch a fire burning in Little Grand Rapids, Man. in a handout photo provided by councillor Clinton Keeper of Little Grand Rapids. CP/ HO-Clinton Keper MANDATORY CREDIT

The federal government said it is stepping up efforts to evacuate two Manitoba First Nations that are threatened by a raging wildfire.

Public Safety Canada said about 600 people were expected to be evacuated from the Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations by the end of the day Wednesday with more to follow.

“Evacuations can continue into the evening as additional lights have been set up at the community airport,” the department said in a release. “Evacuations will continue into the evening and tomorrow.”

The Canadian Red Cross estimates about 1,400 people will be forced from their homes about 260 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Federal officials said the fire conditions early Wednesday evening indicated the wind was blowing the flames away from the communities. Crews were deployed to fight any fires that break out on the reserves.

Leaders from Little Grand Rapids First Nation are furious, saying the federal and provincial governments hindered their efforts to evacuate their fly-in community earlier in the week.

About 630 people were huddled, many with blankets covering their faces, in a smoky gymnasium at the school in Little Grand Rapids, the leaders said.

“It’s very frustrating, and in the back of your mind when you think about it, it could have been prevented. Measures could have been taken,” said Little Grand Rapids Coun. Clinton Keeper.

The fire started on Monday and was caused by person, said a statement from Manitoba Sustainable Development. It was small and fire crews thought it could be contained, but as the winds picked up it grew to about 50 square kilometres. By Wednesday it was 200 square kilometres.

The chief and council said they contacted Indigenous Services Canada on Monday requesting help with an evacuation. Keeper said the federal government sought guidance from Sustainable Development, which relayed the message that the fire was under control.

However, Sustainable Development said staff attempted to contact the chief and council but couldn’t reach them.

As the flames crept closer and the sky filled with smoke, the chief and council said they reached out to the federal government for help again on Tuesday. It wasn’t until ashes started falling on the community that action was taken in the evening, the First Nation leaders said.

“People were so happy to get out. They were told to go to the airport. They went to the airport and next thing you know they were told to wait,” Keeper said.

The blaze had burned too close to the airport and the thick smoke kept the planes from landing. Only 63 people were able to be removed. The rest were taken back to the school, which was being protected by sprinklers.

The province “knew … that it was dry, that the fire was going to spread, that it was going to get bigger, but it got worse,” said Keeper.

“They are luckily there’s nobody that died in there so far. There’s been quite a few houses that burnt and luckily there’s nobody in there.”

Initial reports said 11 houses were destroyed.

Communities make their own decisions about evacuation with input and consultation from agencies like Sustainable Development, the provincial department said in a statement. In this case, the chief announced the evacuation without any consultation with the province, the statement said.

Indigenous Services Canada is monitoring the situation closely, said spokeswoman Martine Stevens, and regional staff have met with the chief and council.

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs Organization said the delayed response shows that First Nations need to oversee emergency services and responses for their own communities.

“We shouldn’t be asking for help on these things. We should be given the proper resources to help ourselves,” he said.

Amik Aviation, which provides transportation to northern communities in Manitoba, cancelled all of it’s regularly scheduled flights to help Wednesday. Manager Terrence Owen said the company used float planes to land on the water and then transport people by boat to the plane.

“It’s pretty bad. I can see it on everyone’s faces,” he said. “No one has seen a fire like this before.”

A CH-147 Chinook helicopter was to fly about 90 people out of Little Grand Rapids Wednesday, said David Lavalee, a Royal Canadian Air Force spokesman.

About 160 people had been evacuated by Wednesday afternoon, band officials said.

“Efforts are underway to continue evacuations as quickly as possible,” Public Safety Canada said in a release.

Crews from Manitoba and Ontario are fighting the wildfire along with water bombers from Quebec.

The Canadian Press

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Native American lacrosse teams leagueless in South Dakota

In this 2017 photo provided by Franky Jackson, members of the Lightning Stick Society lacrosse team pose with their 2017 Dakota Premier Lacrosse League championship trophy. The team is one of three that was kicked out of the youth league this year amid concerns about racial abuse. (Franky Jackson via AP), The Associated Press

Travis Brave Heart was planning to spend his senior season this spring and summer tuning up to play college lacrosse in the fall. Instead, the 17-year-old standout from Aberdeen, South Dakota, is faced with the prospect of not playing at all.

His Lightning Stick Society team was one of three Native American clubs kicked out of a developmental league in North Dakota and South Dakota amid their concerns about racial abuse, leaving players and coaches upset and scrambling to find ways to continue playing a game that originated with their ancestors and means more to them than just competition.

“I got my anger out of the way,” Brave Heart said. “I went outside and practiced lacrosse, even though it was snowing. After I played, I wasn’t angry anymore. Then I thought, ‘What do we need to get past this? To get playing again?’”

The head of the league rejected any notion of widespread racism, and said the teams were removed not for complaining but for issues such as unreliable attendance.

Lacrosse is considered America’s oldest sport — an important part of Native American cultures long before the arrival of Europeans. It’s still used to teach Native youth about culture, values and life skills like keeping emotions under control. It can also be a path to college for players who often come from impoverished reservations.

The Dakota Premier Lacrosse League is part of a surge in popularity. Participation on organized teams — mostly youth and high school level — more than tripled over 15 years to a record 825,000 players in 2016, according to U.S. Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body.

Since the Dakota league launched in 2016, Native American teams have experienced racial abuse that they don’t experience in neighboring states like Minnesota and Nebraska, said Kevin DeCora, a Lightning Stick Society coach.

“Racism kind of goes across the board with all sports,” he said. “It’s the attitude and belief that people in the Dakotas have always had to the indigenous population, for hundreds of years.”

As an example, Lightning Stick director and co-coach Franky Jackson and others cited a 2015 incident in which Native American children were sprayed with beer while watching a minor league hockey game in Rapid City.

Brave Heart said he has endured taunts about his Native American ancestry from white players and their parents, rough play he feels crosses the line into abuse and what he views as biased refereeing toward white players. He described an incident after one game, as his team was resting in the shade under some trees, in which a parent from another team carrying a cellphone camera came looking for evidence of drugs or alcohol, “assuming we were a bunch of drunk Natives.”

This undated photo provided by Denis Brave Heart, shows Travis Brave Heart, front left, of Aberdeen, S.D., playing lacrosse. Brave Heart plays for a team that was kicked out of a youth league in the Dakotas amid concerns about racial abuse. (Denise Brave Heart via AP), The Associated Press

The primarily Native teams expelled from the Dakota league — Susbeca and 7 Flames are the others — say they were kicked out after asking the league to address their allegations. They provided copies of letters they said they sent to the league and to U.S. Lacrosse in 2016 and 2017, detailing the cellphone-toting parent incident and other specific instances of racial slurs and overly rough play.

League Administrator Corey Mitchell said he received only one formal complaint, in 2016. He said he investigated and found no evidence of misconduct warranting punishment, but he provided a copy of an email he sent to people in the league after the complaint informing them of a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or racial slurs.

Mitchell said the league had problems with the Native American teams including unreliable attendance and improper registration of some coaches and players.

“I think this is nothing more than a response to being held accountable,” he said.

Ali Vincent, who writes grant requests to fund the 7 Flames, said the teams dispute they did anything that warranted expulsion.

U.S. Lacrosse in a statement said “diversity and inclusion are essential components of our sport” and that it would investigate.

Mitchell acknowledged that the fledgling league has had its struggles, including inexperienced referees, but said it has strived to improve through such measures as requiring U.S. Lacrosse certification for coaches. He has formed a board of directors with Native American representation to run the league and said he will step down as director after this season.

None of the league’s predominantly white teams responded to requests for comment, though the association that runs the team in Fargo, North Dakota, quit the league and issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone racism. That association’s president didn’t respond to an interview request.

The Native teams said they are getting support and offers to play from teams around the country, and are lining up other opponents.

“At the end of the day, we only want these kids to play,” Jackson said. “We deal with disenfranchised youth that can’t even afford to buy a mouth guard half the time. We understand how to empower these kids.”

That’s true for Brave Heart, an Oglala Sioux tribal member who helped captain his team to a league championship last year and parlayed that success into an athletic scholarship at Emmanuel College in Georgia. But the sport means much more to him than a pathway to a future as an historic preservation officer.

“We play for the Creator, and we play for the community,” he said. “You think of all the people who can’t play, like people in wheelchairs and the sick, and when you play for them, you get this drive you just can’t explain.

“The day just gets better when you start playing,” Brave Heart added. “It’s definitely more than a game.”

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By: Blake Nicholson The Associated Press

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Body recovered from Red River in Winnipeg identified as missing Indigenous woman

April Carpenter is shown in a Winnipeg Police Service handout photo.

Family is calling on anyone with information to speak up

The body of a woman recovered from the Red River in Winnipeg has been identified as 23-year-old April Carpenter.

According to media reports, family members and police confirmed April’s identity.

The police underwater search and recovery unit pulled her body from the Red River on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s not clear how April died and an autopsy is pending.

She was reported missing on April 27.

Carolyn Carpenter, April’s mother, wanted people to know her daughter’s body was found.

Carolyn Carpenter, spoke briefly to media Thursday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Her family is calling on anyone with information to speak up.

“We don’t believe that it was April’s choice to be in the river,” said Billy Dubery, a spokesman for the family.

Member of the legislature Nahanni Fontaine posted on Facebook encouraging anyone with information to come forward “so we can find justice for April.”

April is described as Indigenous, with light brown shoulder length hair and noticeable dimples. Investigators are looking to speak with anyone who may have had contact with her on the evening of April 26 and beyond.

A vigil will be held in memory of April Carpenter, on Friday, 7pm at the Bell Tower on Selkirk Ave and Powers Street.

In 2014, Tina Fontaine, 15, was found in the Red River. A jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty of second-degree murder in her death in February.

Indigenous rights activist Vernon Harper dies in Toronto

Native elder Vern Harper

Vernon Harper, a medicine man and Indigenous rights activist, organized the Native People’s Caravan from Vancouver to Ottawa in 1974.

Harper, 85, also authored a book about the trek entitled “The Red Road: The Native People’s Caravan, 1974.”

The Anishinabek Nation Grand Council says Harper died on Saturday, surrounded by members of his family in Toronto, where he was born on June 17, 1932.

He served as vice-president of the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association and in 1976, he co-founded the First Nations School of Toronto, which is designed to empower its students with a strong cultural identity.

Funeral services are to be held in Toronto on Friday.

“My condolences go out to Vern’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee said Tuesday in a release.

“He will be fondly remembered for his passion for helping others and for being a champion of Indigenous rights,” Madahbee said. “He was an advocate for those who could not speak for themselves and he influenced the lives of many.”

Harper was also one of a few First Nations elders with a chaplain status recognized by the Correctional Service of Canada and provided spiritual services, sweat lodge ceremonies and traditional counselling to Indigenous prison inmates.

The Canadian Press

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Drums stolen from van in Calgary returned to Indigenous rights advocate

30 hand drums were taken from a van in the Dalhousie area on Tuesday. (Photo: Chantal Stormsong Chagnon)

After a plea for help and days of searching, drums stolen from a van in Calgary have been returned.

Chantal Chagnon had a black duffel bag with 30 hand drums and a ceremonial knife  taken from her vehicle on Tuesday morning, outside the Cree8 office in the Dalhousie area.

She is a singer, educator and Indigenous-rights advocate who tours Calgary schools.

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Chagnon got a call from police Saturday afternoon saying her drums had been recovered.

“They said hey we found a bag in one of your neighbour’s yards, and I was like really? So I went and I met them and confirmed, and yep they were my drums, not all of them but most of them are there. So I can continue to work schools and continue sharing music,” said Chagnon.

There are still six drums and a ceremonial knife missing.

Chagnon believes, had it not been for the wide coverage her story received in the media and online, her drums would not have been returned.

As for the thief, she thanks them for eventually giving the drums back.

Mural for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Vandalized With Racial Slurs

Isha Jules in Enderby, BC, at the mural painted to raise awareness of murdered and missing women. Photo: Warrior Publications

Mural for missing and murdered women in Enderby vandalized; RCMP investigating

A mural honouring missing and murdered indigenous women in a North Okanagan community was defaced with racial slurs.

According to infotel.ca, the mural, painted last year by artist Isha Jules at the skate park in Enderby B.C., was a statement that missing women would not be forgotten. It boldly stated “No more stolen sisters.”

Sometime on May 9, it was vandalized and painted over with the words “No more drunk stolen squaw sisters.”

The vandal added the words ‘drunk’ and ‘squaw’ to the ‘No more stolen sisters’ mural. Image Credit: River Johnson

It’s not the first time the mural has been targeted. A few days earlier, someone painted a black widow spider on it.

The mural was for all murdered and missing women but concern has been raised around the country about indigenous women in particular. Four women are currently missing from the area, and a fifth woman was found dead at a rural farm about 30 minutes out of Enderby.

Police are aware of the vandalism and an investigation is ongoing.

City of Enderby Mayor Greg McCune says he met with the RCMP and is hopeful they will find the person responsible.

As of Thursday morning, the vulgar remarks are already painted over, plans are underway to repaint the mural, and a rally is being organized for Saturday to denounce the hateful act.

Anyone wishing to attend the rally is asked to meet at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the skate park on Old Vernon Road.

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Indigenous rights advocate appeals for return of drums stolen from van in Calgary

30 hand drums were taken from her van in the Dalhousie area on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (Facebook: Chantal Stormsong Chagnon)

An Indigenous rights advocate is calling on the community to help locate dozens of traditional drums stolen from a van in northwest Calgary this week.

Chantal Chagnon says she uses the drums for marches, rallies, and educational purposes.

A black duffel bag, with 30 hand drums and a ceremonial knife inside, were taken Tuesday morning from outside the Cree8 office in the Dalhousie area.

Chagnon who tours Calgary schools has posted several images on her Facebook page and Cree8’s wesbsite in the hopes that someone will come forward with more information about the missing drums.

Chagnon is a singer, educator and Indigenous-rights advocate with ties to the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

She says the drums — which she made herself — hold a cultural and spiritual significance, which help bring together people from all backgrounds.

Canadian man lynched in Peruvian Amazon was accused in fatal shooting of Indigenous elder

Traditional healer and elder Olivia Arevalo Lomas of the Shipibo-Conibo Indigenous people of Peru was shot and killed at her home.

A man reportedly from Canada has been killed in Peru after villagers accused him in the shooting death of an Indigenous spiritual elder.

Olivia Arevalo Lomas, 81, a defender of environmental rights and traditional plant healer of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe was found dead with two gunshot wounds last week at her home in the Ucayali region of the Amazon rainforest.

Local media claims the killer pulled up to Lomas’ house on a motorbike and called out her name.

When she appeared at the door, a gunman opened fire and Lomas was killed instantly, with the shooter fleeing the scene.

According to Global News, local villagers pointed the finger at Sebastian Woodroffe, 41, from the Comox Valley in B.C., who had travelled to Peru to study hallucinogenic medicine. He’s believed to have been studying with Lomas.

Woodroffe, who lived nearby was blamed for the fatal shooting of Lomas and he was killed that same day by a vigilante mob.

He had not been named by police as a suspect in her murder.

Sebastian Woodroffe was lynched in Peru after being accused of killing Olivia Arevalo Lomas.

crowdfunding page set up by Woodroffe says he wanted to explore Ayahuasca, a local brew that contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT) – a powerful hallucinogenic and psychedelic drug.

BBC reports, the hallucinogenic medicine has become increasingly popular with backpackers who take part in Ayahuasca ceremonies in the rainforest.

Police did not investigate Woodroffe’s death until cellphone video on local media showed a man who was beaten, then lynched and dragged through a village.

Police found Woodroffe’s body in an unmarked shallow grave on Saturday.

Canadian officials are investigating Woodroffe’s death.

It is not clear, why the villagers anger focussed on the Canadian as other indigenous leaders in the past have been targeted for efforts to keep illegal loggers off Indigenous lands.

“We want the communities of the Amazon to know that there is justice,” Ricardo Palma Jimenez, the head of a local group of prosecutors told TV Peru in Ucayali. “But not justice by their own hands.”

According to The Guardian, Ronald Suárez, the highest authority of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe, said that the men responsible for the lynching “acted on the spur of the moment and resorted to traditional justice.”

“But we are a peaceful people who have always lived in harmony with nature,” he insisted. “We have little confidence in the police as, so often, crimes against us go unpunished.”

No arrests have been made in either of the cases.

‘Intimidated no longer’: Families march in Saskatoon amid allegations of police violence

Sheila Tataquason said she didn’t resist the police dog that bit her in 2013, even after it latched onto her arm. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

Parents of 2 dead Indigenous men among those calling for end to police violence

The families of an Indigenous man who was shot at by police and another whose death is at the centre of a police inquest joined a Saskatoon march against police violence on Saturday.

Wearing a shirt that reads “#Justice4Austin,” Agatha Eaglechief joined the march of about a dozen people who played drums, sang songs and carried signs past a heavily trafficked 22nd Street West, as they travelled from Pleasant Hill Park to the police station.

Agatha’s son Austin Eaglechief died in summer 2017 following a police chase in which shots were fired by officers. She said she still does not know what led to shots being fired that day, despite having seen helicopter video footage.

“Everyday I wake up hoping I can get an answer,” Agatha said.

Agatha Eaglechief at a march against police violence, holding a photo of her deceased son Austin Eaglechief. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

While an autopsy clears gunshots as the cause of death, which included a high-speed crash with another vehicle, Agatha said in her view shots should have never been fired because her son had mental health and addiction issues.

‘I’m still fighting,’ says mother of Jordan Lafond

Among those speaking before the march began was Charmaine Dreaver, the mother of Jordan Lafond. Lafond died on in October 2016 after crashing into a fence during a police chase. His death is the subject of an upcoming June coroner’s inquest.

“I’m very upset about [how] the police act against so many people [that] have been hurt. It’s been very, very hard. I’m still fighting. I’ll never give up on the fight for Jordan,” Dreaver said to those who gathered.

“We need to be treated better and equally as humans.”

Charmaine Dreaver, left, with family members are still waiting for answers at an upcoming inquest into her son Jordan Lafond’s death. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

Police dog bite victim speaks

Sheila Tataquason was bitten by a police dog in 2013 and has been vocal about how it impacted her life.

The canine officer had been chasing an armed robbery suspect and latched onto Tataquason’s arm, although she was not involved, and has not received compensation from police despite facing nerve damage, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder since she was bit.

“I’m here to support all the people and not to be intimidated no longer by the Saskatoon city police,” she said.

Organizers say events like this, organized by the Saskatoon Coordinating Committee Against Police Violence, are a push toward greater transparency by police and also share information about citizens’ rights when it comes to police.

CBC News · Posted: Mar 31, 2018

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Crown won’t appeal verdict in Tina Fontaine case

Raymond Cormier, right, was acquitted in the death of Tina Fontaine

Crown will not appeal acquittal of Raymond Cormier 

Manitoba Justice says Crown prosecutors will not appeal the acquittal of a man who was accused of killing 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.

Last month, a jury found Raymond Cormier, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Tina, whose body was found wrapped in a duvet cover weighed down with rocks in the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17, 2014.

The verdict sparked rallies and support for Tina’s family from across turtle island.

“After a critical review … by the Manitoba Prosecution Service’s appeal unit and the Crown attorneys who prosecuted the case, it has been determined there are no grounds to base a successful appeal,” says the statement released Tuesday.

The Crown says it has advised Tina’s family of the decision.

Her cause of death remains unknown.