Chief gets rough ride on Saskatchewan reserve
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 7, 2008 8:08AM EST
YELLOW QUILL, Sask. - A band council meeting Wednesday on the Saskatchewan reserve where two little girls froze to death last week didn't even touch on the topic because of "cultural protocols," says the reserve's chief.
Robert Whitehead of the Yellow Quill First Nation said it was a contentious gathering that carried on long-established rifts between himself and many council members. But he said the tragic deaths of Kaydance Pauchay, 3, and her one-year-old sister, Santana, were not directly addressed.
Relatives have said the girls' father, Christopher Pauchay, might have been seeking medical help when he headed with them toward a nearby house about 12:30 a.m. on a bitterly cold night.
At some point, Pauchay - who relatives say had been drinking - got separated from the children, who were only wearing diapers and T-shirts.
He made it to the neighbouring house and was taken to hospital suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia. Eight hours later, when he was finally able to communicate, he asked about his children, triggering the search that ended with the discovery of the girls' frozen bodies.
Whitehead said that Pauchay's father and a couple of his uncles attended Wednesday's meeting.
"I know they came there specifically to ensure that nobody talks about it," said the chief.
"There are cultural protocols that we have to follow, and I think that's probably why they wouldn't want anybody to talk about it for a while, at least.
"In our culture, we don't talk about the dead for a while after things like this happen. It's something that has been practised for years and years."
The Yellow Quill reserve is battling alcohol abuse, high unemployment and a lack of suitable housing. The First Nation also has political and financial difficulties, and has been under third-party management since 1999.
Whitehead said he came under attack on Wednesday by "bullies" on the band council and he responded by taking away the portfolios of individual members.
"I get accused of all kinds of things, like being a dictator," he said. "I guess there are things that I have to do that I cannot avoid."
Irene Nippi, grandmother of the girls, has said the reserve should ban alcohol and counsellors should be brought in to help people with addictions.
But Whitehead said the alcohol ban idea was not discussed Wednesday.
"It was supposed to be a topic, but I guess some people don't like talking about it, especially on council, because some people still use alcohol," he said.
"I don't dictate what people think. If people vote in favour of it, I have to go with that."
He said that personally, he doesn't drink and therefore has no problem with alcohol.
"Some of the people that I do talk to, although they probably would support an alcohol ban to some extent, I think one of the things that people are talking about is there should be a bit of a responsible attitude toward alcohol.
"I guess I am caught in between those two thoughts, because definitely I am concerned about kids in the community."
Earlier this week, an angry Chief Lawrence Joseph, head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, delivered a scathing address to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention.
He suggested politicians stop worrying about potholes and start focusing on the "rampant" crisis of substance abuse in the aboriginal community.
No decision has yet been made on whether charges might be laid against Christopher Pauchay, who is still being treated for frostbite he suffered the night his daughters died.