Haley (left) and Harley Cheenanow died in a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation on February 17. (lenecrologue.com and obitsforlife.com)

Haley (left) and Harley Cheenanow died in a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation on February 17. (lenecrologue.com and obitsforlife.com)

By Lynda Banning

The value that Canadian society places on First Nation children was never more obvious to me than it is today. Like many Canadians, last Thursday I spent my morning waiting for news about 3 year-old Elijah Marsh. He left his Grandmother’s apartment in the middle of the night to wander the bitter cold streets of Toronto. The result was a community mobilization, hundreds of police and volunteers responded to the call to search for sweet little Elijah. Comments following the news articles about Elijah’s death included sympathetic responses with themes like “no one to blame” “sad and tragic” and “my heart goes out to the family”. There were two fundraisers initiated to help the Marsh family cover Elijah’s funeral costs, one received $173,557.00 and the other $4,100.00. This is a story Canadians can be proud of.

In grim contrast is the story of 2 year-old Harley Cheenanow and his 18 month-old sister Haley. You may have heard of them, but then again maybe not. A couple of days before young Elijah went missing these two beautiful children perished in a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Reserve in Saskatchewan.  They couldn’t even get the local Fire Department out to assist. Comments in response to their deaths were more than a little less sympathetic and a lot more pathetic. In the comments section of one newspaper article there was some discussion about whether a dog or a child is more important. Other comments included statements regarding race, “the Band is to blame” and “that’s why we need a First Nation Transparency Act”. There were two fundraisers initiated for the Cheenanow family also. This family has two babies to bury, and a home and contents to replace. One fund raised $1,000.00 in 3 days, half was contributed by the lady who started it; the other has grown to a scant $5,400.00. Even the media are oblivious. A comment on one of the fundraiser sites says: “Just curious, why I can’t find the article about the fire? I would like to read up on what happened before I donate”.

In my opinion, when a family loses a precious gift from the Creator they should be able to expect an outpouring of sympathy and support. That is of course, unless you live on a First Nation in Canada. Treatment of First Nation children in Canada has been and continues to be shameful.

Lynda Banning works for the Union of Ontario Indians in the Fort William First Nation Satellite Office. She is the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Regional Program Worker for the Northern Superior Region. She may be contacted by phone at 807-623-8887 or by email at lynda.banning@anishinabek.ca