POLITICS

Aboriginal group's reaction to comments about tragic fire 'regrettable':premier

03/04/2015 01:37 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Premier Brad Wall says it's "regrettable" how a First Nations leader reacted to his comments in the wake of a tragic fire on a Saskatchewan reserve.

The interim chief for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said in a press release that the premier used the fire to attack First Nations leaders.

Kimberly Jonathan was referring to comments Wall made to reporters, saying that the fire underscored the need for leadership in First Nations communities.

Two-year-old Harley Cheenanow and his 18-month-old sister, Haley, died in a fire at their grandmother's home last month.

Chief Richard Ben of the Makwa Sahgaiehcan (Sah-GAYG'-gehn) First Nation has said his reserve has a working fire truck, but they didn't have enough money for proper equipment or to train crews to use it.

The volunteer fire department in nearby Loon Lake was called but didn't respond, because service to the reserve had been cut weeks earlier over unpaid bills.

Jonathan said in the release that it was baseless for Wall to suggest First Nations leaders aren't concerned about safety and said it was wrong to exploit the deaths of innocent children.

Wall says it's ridiculous to suggest he was exploiting the tragedy.

He adds that his call for leadership in First Nations communities came after he thanked Felix Thomas, who is chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council.

Wall commended Thomas for deciding to do an inventory to determine gaps in fire protection and says he is calling for local leaders on all levels to follow Thomas's example.