TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian aboriginal community has narrowly voted to ban alcohol in the village, a decision that comes just days after two toddlers on an Indian reserve froze to death in an incident in which alcohol is believed to have been a factor.
On Thursday night, the Innu First Nation in Newfoundland voted 76-74 to ban the sale, distribution or possession of alcohol in an attempt to stop the bootlegging business that has been blamed for the poverty and social problems of the small community on Canada’s Atlantic coast.
While alcohol is not sold on the reserve, some members either make their own or bring it in from nearby communities and sell it for a large profit.
“We’ve been seeing so many bootleggers here in the community and they make thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Katie Rich, assistant to the chief of the reserve’s band counsel.
“And those parents that are drinking ... that money should have been going to the children to buy food for them.”
Earlier this week, two toddlers were found frozen to death on the Yellow Quill First Nation Indian reserve in the Prairie province of Saskatchewan.
Their father left his home with the children, who were dressed only in diapers and light shirts, on a bitterly cold night when temperatures dropped below -35 degrees Celsius (-31 degrees Fahrenheit).
The man arrived at a neighbor’s home about four hours later with severe frostbite and hypothermia, and was taken to hospital. The children were later found dead in the snow.
Media reports have said the father, who is now under investigation by police, was intoxicated at the time.
The incidents underscore the difficulties faced by many of Canada’s native communities, which suffer from poverty, high unemployment and often severe health and social problems.
Rich, who was in favor of the alcohol ban in Newfoundland, said that the idea was raised by the community a few years ago after children died in a house fire. She said the deaths in Saskatchewan have left many people reeling.
“We’ve seen so many tragedies here in the community. We have seen countless suicides, for example. We have seen countless children removed from their parents,” she said, adding that alcohol has also led to sexual and spousal assaults.
“There’s so many people hurting each other and we need to act.”
While the bylaw is currently in force on the Innu reserve, it must be sent to the federal minister of Indian affairs who has 40 days to allow or disallow the regulation.
The troubled Innu community has been relocated four times in the past 40 years before moving to the current village of Natuashish. Living conditions on their previous reserve were described as “below third world conditions.”
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Rob Wilson