Four homicides on First Nations reserves in Manitoba within the first four days of January have already taxed RCMP resources and given them a gloomy prediction for the new year.
The latest occurred in Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, where the small community is now mourning the death of one of its members.
“It’s a sudden and tragic loss for the family,” Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation Chief Norman Bone said.
“When you have a fairly small community and everyone knows each other it hits everybody.”
On Jan. 4, Yellowhead RCMP members were called to a complaint of a disturbance at a residence within the community shortly after 10:30 p.m.
Upon arrival, officers found Terrel Stewart Shorting, 34, deceased. Terris Ronald Mintuck, 50, also of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation is located 80 kilometres northwest of Brandon. A small community of nearly 550, “where everybody knows everybody,” Bone said.
“Something like this means a lot of pain for the community. It means healing has got to take place for everyone that’s affected by it.”
Since the small community is not used to dealing with sudden alleged acts of violence like this one, Bone said they’re focusing on supporting the victims family with all of the resources they have.
“They’re working through this ordeal with their own supportive mechanism within their own family and we’re offering them counselling services through our health centre and tribal office.”
Volunteer services within the community are also banding together to provide food for the family.
“I think what this does to a community is it affects the emotions of everyone, you get everyone talking and people need to talk their way through this,” Bone said. “Hopefully nothing like this happens again and we learn from this.”
Investigations are also ongoing for the other three First Nations homicide cases that occurred in Black First Nation on Jan. 1, Long Plain First Nation on Jan. 2 and Moose Lake on Jan. 3. While all four incidents occurred within the same month, RCMP suggest they also have something else in common.
“They all involved some sort of dispute that escalated beyond your typical fight,” RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said. “These are the types of matters that are unpredictable from a policing standpoint.”
So far, the RCMP are already investigating six homicides this year and are potentially working on a seventh. On Jan. 6, a body was discovered on God’s Lake Narrows First Nation. But the Mounties gave no details about the deceased person, neither gender nor age yesterday. Remains were to be flown south for an autopsy.
“We had no homicides in the month of January in 2012,” Karpish said. “However, holidays do at times spark violence that unfortunately ends in homicides.”
Karpish added that the recent spike in homicides is beginning to tax their resources.
“Having six homicides in six days (Dec. 30 to Jan. 4) is particularly taxing on our forensic identification section and homicide investigators, who are required to attend and investigate every death where foul play is suspected across the province in RCMP jurisdiction.”
The worst year on record for RCMP was in 2007, when 37 homicides occurred within their jurisdiction. Last year, Karpish said the RCMP investigated 19 homicides and out of the 19, nine occurred in First Nations communities.
Lack of resources and opportunity are just some of the contributing factors that lead to this sort of violence on reserves, said Wendy Whitecloud, an aboriginal law professor at the University of Manitoba.
“It’s a complex mix of factors that creates situations like these,” Whitecloud said. “There is no one main answer to this, it requires a complex approach that nobody has found yet.”
A lot of the issues that affect northern reserves also affect remote communities in southern Manitoba, she said.
“In the south there is more availability, but no matter what there is still a lack of opportunity.”
Some of the issues that contribute to violence on reserves are also being carried forward by the Idle No More movement that is continuing to gain momentum across Canada.
“Idle No More is trying to deal with issues just like these. We need to look at the lack of opportunities so everyone has an opportunity.”
with files from the Winnipeg Free Press