Reserve where girls froze worse than 'Third World'
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, January 31, 2008 8:42PM EST
As the RCMP continue to investigate if alcohol was a major factor in the deaths of two little girls found frozen to death at the Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan, local residents say substance abuse is rampant at the reserve.
They note alcohol and drugs are destroying young lives in the community, which was described as being more impoverished than many Third World countries.
An RCMP spokesperson says investigators probing the freezing deaths of two young sisters are trying to fill in large gaps as they piece together what took place -- but the girls' father may be the only one who can provide the answers.
Police found the body of three-year old Kaydance Pauchay on Wednesday on the reserve, one day after finding her one-year-old sister Santana. The girls were wearing just diapers and T-shirts on a night when the mercury hit -50 C with wind chill -- a temperature that can cause frostbite in less than two minutes.
There have been reports that the girls' father Christopher Pauchay was attempting to get help for the youngest girl when he set out from the home sometime during the night, and was on his way to another home about 400 metres away.
Both girls were eventually found in a snowy field between the two houses.
The chronology of the event is still in question. Police picked up Pauchay early Tuesday, but it wasn't until eight hours later when he was recovering in hospital that he asked about his daughters and told police they may need help.
"We're not quite sure of the time frame just yet, and I think probably the father is the only one who will be able to provide that answer," Sgt. Brad Kaeding of the RCMP's media relations department, told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.
He said investigators believe Pauchay was at home at 12:30 a.m., and arrived at his neighbour's house at 5:30 a.m., leaving a five-hour window during which he became separated from his daughters.
"We definitely think alcohol did play a contributing role. We're not quite sure yet to what extent -- whether it was primarily the alcohol or primarily the cold -- but we do believe it played some role," Kaeding said.
Residents and family members of the deceased told CTV News many residents in the community are victims of alcohol and drugs. The girls' deaths have created sadness and anger in the community.
"It's depressing," said Margaret Roper, the girls' cousin. "Nothing has changed. Our people are still going through the same issues."
A nurse who worked for eight years as a nurse at Yellow Quill said conditions at the aboriginal reserve are worse than in some of the world's poorest countries.
"I think the whole problem is poverty on the reserve," Kathy Mason told CTV Saskatoon.
"I've worked in a Third World country. I've travelled through third world countries. Yellow Quill -- It's worse than a third world country."
Mason said the system is set up so that residents on the reserve are not able to better their conditions. She said Canadians wrongly believe that the government gives aboriginal people an abundance of money.
"They're given just enough to survive," she said.
The reserve has tried to ban alcohol from the community in the past, but bureaucratic problems prevented the ban from being enacted.
Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said issues on reserves such as Yellow Quill are much too complex to be resolved by just banning alcohol.
"It's not like you can just wave a magic wand and the problem goes away," Strahl said.
"It's very complex. Sometimes these communities have a multitude of issues that they're dealing with. So just passing a bylaw doesn't make the world all right."
Pearl Pauchay, the girls' grandmother, said she hoped "other families learn from this tragedy."
Kaeding said the younger girl was found closer to the neighbour's house, suggesting she may have been carried by her father while the older girl may have been following behind.
Pauchay, Kaeding said, remained in hospital Thursday morning where he was being treated for frostbite.
The community is struggling to come to grips with the tragedy.
"It's obviously a very sad feeling out on the Yellow Quill First Nation," said CTV's Mike Ciona, reporting from Yorkton, Sask. on Thursday.
"The family is bound together, they've been (gathering) about 300 metres from where they found the bodies of both of the girls, at the grandparents' house," he told CTV's Canada AM.
Bernita Pauchay, the girls' aunt, said the father wouldn't have harmed his children intentionally.
"He really loved and cared for them," she said. "He's going through a lot right now, having to realize the mistakes that he's done."