By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A confrontation with police left one man dead in a far north community last week after he turned a gun on himself and it is a tragedy some believe was fuelled by drugs that were delivered up north through the mail.
RCMP said in a media release on Thursday that on the morning of Jan. 27 at around 4:15 a.m. they got a report that a man had gone to a home in the Sayisi Dene Denesuline Nation, and bear-sprayed three people.
Police then got a second call the same morning at 5:50 a.m. that the same man had assaulted two more people while in possession of a knife and then fled from the scene, and police were told the man did have access to firearms.
What followed was a long manhunt in and around the community, which is Manitoba’s northernmost First Nation and police said they finally located the man around 8 p.m. last Friday evening after receiving a tip about his location.
Police say that when they confronted the man he was armed with a firearm and they requested through verbal commands for him to drop his weapon but while being confronted the man turned the gun on himself and fired.
Police applied first aid to the man and then took him to a local nursing station where he was pronounced dead.
In a press release put out on Sunday, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said he believed drugs played a role in the events and in the man’s death.
Settee said in the release he was also greatly concerned about the effects that drugs and alcohol coming into northern Manitoba through the postal system was having on First Nations communities, and that it was fueling incidents like the one that took place last week.
Settee and other Indigenous leaders are now calling for more support for northern communities to combat what they say has become a “raging epidemic” of drug-dealing and bootlegging.
“I have repeatedly raised with the Manitoba Justice Minister, Premier of Manitoba, and senior officials the urgent need to make arrangements to inspect mail, parcels, and packages for alcohol and drugs being delivered into MKO First Nations through Canada Post,” Settee said.
Canada Post said they are concerned about drugs and alcohol making their way to First Nations communities through the mail.
“The growing and devastating toll that illicit drug and alcohol use is taking on Indigenous communities is of great concern to Canada Post,” a Canada Post spokesperson said in an emailed statement to The Sun. “We take the matters raised by the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak seriously.”
Canada Post said they are now working with law enforcement in northern Manitoba as well as with First Nations communities and leaders on the issue but added their abilities when it comes to enforcement are limited.
“We are working closely with law enforcement partners in the northern Manitoba region and our postal inspectors continue to coordinate efforts with the local post offices and community leaders,” the spokesperson said.
“It’s important to note that Canada Post does not have enforcement authority in these communities. We will continue to work with First Nation communities to address their concerns and the enforcement of local band laws, as we want to do everything possible to contribute to safe communities.”
Earlier this week Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he was aware of and concerned about issues of drug-dealing and bootlegging in northern Manitoba, and that he had plans to bring up the topic with federal officials this week.
– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.