A First Nations community west of Calgary is grieving and looking for answers after the death of a baby girl and the illness of other children from her large family.
As RCMP investigate the circumstances of the four-month-old’s death, everyone in the close-knit community has been affected, said Rob Lahache, an official with the Wesley band. A contingent of First Nation elders is reaching out to people who need emotional support, he said.
“We try to take care of everything internally,” said Mr. Lahache, chief executive of the Wesley band, one of three that make up the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
“We always support each other through thick and thin, no matter what goes on. It could be a flood, it could be a disaster – or a death.”
Mr. Lahache and others in the community have no clear explanation as to why the infant died in a house near the settlement of Morley, Alta. – located about 60 kilometres west of Calgary. Likewise, it is still unknown what has afflicted her siblings, who were rushed to hospitals in Calgary after emergency workers arrived on the scene just before noon on Wednesday.
An autopsy on the infant is slated for Friday. On Thursday afternoon, the RCMP said two adult siblings of the infant have been released from hospital while 10 others remain in stable condition. The group of 10 includes a two-year-old girl, who was deemed to be in the greatest need of medical care. RCMP said she was in serious but stable condition on Thursday afternoon.
RCMP Corporal Curtis Peters said 15 people were in the Morley home on Wednesday when emergency workers and police responded to a report of a child in medical distress. The four-month-old was pronounced dead, and two adult siblings and 10 children were transported to hospital with what health officials said were flu-like symptoms. The two parents in the household travelled to hospital on their own.
Emergency-service workers said the family was hit with something “of a medical nature,” and that there were no concerns about trauma or violence. Emergency officials also said the incident did not appear to be related to carbon-monoxide poisoning.
The children were all either siblings, or perhaps members of an extended family – and were all together at the home because it’s a spring-break week for schools in the community. The family is a part of the Wesley band, Mr. Lahache said , and Wesley Chief Ernest Wesley will speak to reporters about the situation on Friday.
“We have also received a lot of outpouring of condolences and prayers. And I would like to express gratitude from the community for that,” Mr. Lahache said.
“But the community as a whole is also very shy.”
Mr. Lahache said the family has told him they want the media to respect their privacy as they grieve.
He added that, as is the case in many other Canadian communities, the First Nation has endured a particularly tough winter when it comes to illnesses – with respiratory infections and influenza keeping people at home in bed for weeks at a time.
There are multiple probes in progress. The RCMP Major Crimes Unit, along with the Cochrane RCMP, are investigating the death of the baby. An administrator for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation said the local Child and Family Services agency is looking into the welfare of the children. And Mr. Lahache said Health Canada officials have asked to visit the reserve this week.
On Thursday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley tweeted that her “heart breaks for the tragic loss.”
She added: “As we continue to monitor the situation, our thoughts are with the family, community and front-line workers.”