Family of 11 homeless after fire destroys house, community unable to house them

    THUNDER BAY, ON, Oct. 17 /CNW/ - Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand
Chief Alvin Fiddler, together with Kashechewan First Nation Acting Deputy
Chief Sidney Goodwin, is calling on the Government of Canada to step in to
assist NAN Elder George Wesley and his family after their Kashechewan home was
destroyed by fire.
    George Wesley is the father of Ricardo Wesley. Ricardo Wesley died in a
jail fire on January 8, 2006, which garnered nation attention on the
inadequacies of firefighting resources in First Nation communities. Ricardo
Wesley perished along with James Goodwin while the community was powerless to
help them.
    "It is tragically ironic and a terrible shame that George Wesley has lost
his home to a fire while waiting for the inquest to begin into the death of
his son," said Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
"It's been a very long process for these families who have waited more than
two years for an inquest that will not only reveal the circumstances
surrounding the death of their sons, but also the lack of capacity for
Kashechewan and other First Nation communities to protect their homes and
loved ones from fires."
    Eleven people, including children and grandchildren, were living in the
house at the time of the fire. Everyone escaped unharmed and are being
temporarily sheltered in the community.
    "There is no housing in Kashechewan, and almost all of the existing
houses already have more than one family living in them," said Fiddler, noting
that the First Nation is currently looking for temporary emergency housing for
the family outside the community.
    "George Wesley and his family had to flee their home in their pyjamas at
two o'clock in the morning because the fire broke out while they were
sleeping. We hope that people will find it in their hearts to contribute
financially to help them in their time of need," said Kashechewan First Nation
Acting Deputy Chief Sidney Goodwin. "With winter approaching this is a
terrible time for George and his family to be homeless, and this tragedy shows
how devastating a house fire can be."
    There is no firefighting equipment in Kashechewan First Nation, a remote
fly-in community along the west coast of James Bay with a population of
1,600 people.
    "We don't have a fire station as we're still waiting for dollars to flow
from the government - the government is still withholding that money from us,"
said Goodwin. "We also don't have any fire trucks because we don't have
anywhere to house them."
    An inquest by the Office of the Chief Coroner into the death of Ricardo
Wesley and James Goodwin was to begin in Cochrane, Ontario on October 20, 2008
but has been postponed to a future date due to the discovery that the creation
of the jury rolls in northern Ontario may not be in compliance with the Juries
Act. It is expected that the inquest will address the circumstances
surrounding the deaths of Ricardo Wesley and James Goodwin as well as address
the threat of fire in remote First Nations communities and the need for
adequate firefighting and fire prevention services.
    NAN and Kashechewan First Nation are working to set up a charitable
account to assist the Wesley family.

    Nishnawbe Aski Nation is an Aboriginal political organization
representing 49 First Nation communities within James Bay Treaty 9 and Ontario
First Nations part of Treaty 5 - an area spanning two-thirds of Ontario.

For further information:

For further information: Michael Heintzman, Media Relations Officer -
Nishnawbe Aski Nation, (807) 625-4906 or (807) 621-2790 mobile; Acting Deputy
Chief Sidney Goodwin - Kashechewan First Nation, (705) 275-4440; Kimberly R.
Murray, Executive Director - Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, (416)
408-4041, Legal Counsel for the Wesley family

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