The Sandy Bay Indian Reserve story that everybody missed
There's an old saying in the reporting business-nothing spoils a good story faster than the facts.
Luckily for reporters in Winnipeg this past week, they simply ignored the facts and went with the bleeding-heart, knee-jerk story at hand.
A five year old boy died in a house fire on the Sandy Bay Indian Reserve. Out gushed the predictable stories---blame the white man for overcrowding, for the housing shortage, for the ramshackle houses people have to live in on the reserve.
Here's a headline you didn't see:
No housing crisis in Sandy Bay: council
Correction. You didn't see that headline unless you're a reader of the Central Plains Herald-Leader, Manitoba's award-winning community newspaper.
Here's what else you didn't read in the story last August by Herald-Leader reporter Bob Swysun:
SANDY BAY FIRST NATION - Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation's band administration refutes claims it is ignoring housing needs in the community.
The band currently has 110 units either being built from scratch or undergoing major renovations, First Nation adviser Andrew Beaulieu said on July 22, armed with a stack of documents for proof. Beaulieu claims the former chief and council used money that was meant for housing on other things.
Destruction of newly-renovated and brand new houses, not as the result of break-ins, but by the people who live in them, rankles Andrew Beaulieu and also Prince (Simon Prince, manager/inspector for Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council's Residential Housing Program…ed.)
They both claim they've seen newly-renovated and brand new houses suffer extensive damage from the occupants on a regular basis, usually just mere days or weeks after work is completed.
"Sure they're living in deplorable conditions, but 90 per cent of those conditions are their own fault," Andrew Beaulieu said.
Oops. How did that get into print? That's not the party line.
The Herald-Leader story was a treasure-trove of relevant information, starting with the fact that the band had so mismanaged its funds that no housing activity was happening in the summer months---you know, the prime months for construction.
"All the renovation projects on the reserve have a completion deadline of Sept. 30, but all renovations on the reserve have stopped.
Chris Racette, who has been with the housing and public works department at Sandy Bay for four years, said the contractors, who are all residents of Sandy Bay, can't continue work because the band has no materials for them.
The last shipment of supplies from Rona, where the band gets all its supplies, was one or two months ago, Racette noted.
"It's not going to be done by Sept. 30, if it keeps going the way it is now," Racette said. "If we had the materials, the guys would be going full force."
But the band's warehouse is completely empty, he added."
And lo and behold, who makes an appearance in the Herald-Leader story?
Why, none other than Debbie Mousseau, one of the four adults in the home where her five year old grandson, Tristan Taylor-Mousseau, died Thursday morning.
It turns out Mousseau was on the list to get a new house to replace a dilapidated house she had been living in. But her father may have revealed more than he intended about that dilapidated house.
Her house, he said, had no siding and was rotting inside.
"…the house was stripped two years ago with the intention of fixing it, but that never happened.
"She went over to the band office for a new house," (he) said of his daughter, "and they told her they had no money. That thing's not going to build itself."
So somebody on the reserve took the siding off the house and left the structure to deteriorate while waiting for somebody else to pay for repairs. Yep, sounds like business as usual.
Mousseau did get her new house--in October --even though it didn't have electricity for the first two months she lived in it and had no running water as of the end of 2008.
That new house lasted a shade more than six months before a mysterious fire in an armchair burned it down. According to a television news story Friday, the family intends to move back to their old house, which was supposed to be completely renovated, but which, from the video, is worse than a pigsty.
But let's not get too far away from the original story--- boy dies in house fire.
Let's look at the "facts", starting with the Who.
The house was owned by Alvin Maytwayashing, the boy's grandfather. Debbie Mousseau, 37, is his wife. Also in the house were Alvin's daughter and her husband (names and ages unknown). And, according to the news reports, eight children under the age of six who "belonged to two families living in the residence."
Apparently, though, there were 9 children in the house. A cousin decided to crash at the house unbeknownst to the adults.
So when the survivors got out of the burning house, they counted the children and were relieved to find eight, the number they knew belonged in the house. Only later did they realize that No. 9 was still inside.
Why haven't we heard any demand that the adults in the house be held responsible for failing to know exactly how many children were in the home. This is a basic responsibility of every parent in the very case of an emergency such as a fire.
And while this week's stories said the children were under the age of six, Debbie Mousseau's father said she lived with seven children aged seven to 17. What's the truth?
The fire started about 7:30 a.m. in an armchair in the living room. It blocked the doorway out.
Say what? Does that mean there was only one exit to the house?
Is that legal in Manitoba?
And remember, the houses are built by "contractors, who are all residents of Sandy Bay…" So if anyone is to blame, it's the chief and council who allow homes to be built without proper fire exits.
Statistics Canada says two-thirds of the 510 homes on Sandy Bay reserve need major repairs. One reason is use of substandard materials. But if the contractors are from the reserve, who should we blame for using substandard materials?
We heard the word 'overcrowding' a lot this week.
12 or 13 people living in a three bedroom house is the definition of overcrowding.
But, once again, who do we blame?
Well, start with the fact that the birth rate on reserves is twice that of society at large. There isn't a housing shortage; it's a birth-control shortage. Stop breeding like rabbits and, poof, problem solved at zero cost.
But, aren't we overlooking the biggest threat of all to people living on reserves? Yes, we speak of genocide.
Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press recently that "Assimilation into Canadian society is a form of genocide."
And what screams assimilation louder than sturdy houses with indoor plumbing and flush toilets? How Eurocentric.
Shitting in the woods. Now that's the traditional aboriginal way.
Ron Evans says so.