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Chief's death underlines problems of alcohol on Manitoba reserve


indspeaker Staff, Shamattaw Manitoba







Page 2


An alcohol-fuelled family fight in a remote northern Manitoba reserve ended in the stabbing death of the community's young chief.

Noah David Redhead, 28, died in a Thompson, Man. hospital hours after being fatally wounded on the 800-member Shamattawa reserve, about 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg. His wife, 23-year-old Jessie Redhead, has been charged with second-degree murder.

"There are a lot of sad people walking around right now. They have lost their chief," said Wanda Helman, chief nurse at the nursing station on the supposedly dry reserve.

Redhead's death following a week of violence - including a shootout that left one man hospitalized - sparked by an illegal liquor shipment smuggled onto the reserve, police said.

"They're all separate incidents, but it's a domino thing when you get liquor into a community," said Cpl. Wyman Sangster, an RCMP spokesman in Winnipeg. "There's been a continuous pattern of substance-abuse related incidents. Whenever we have a flare-up of crime, it's usually tied to alcohol or gas-sniffing."

The latest wave of violence has underlined the ravages of alcohol abuse on the reserve, which is only accessible by air, water or winter road.

There were 100 reported assaults in the first six months of this year, including attempted murder. A further 346 crimes were committed in the same period, about half alcohol-related. Lucrative alcohol and solvent smuggling operations are also a continuing problem.

People who attended Redhead's funeral were asked to attend a community meeting, where they discussed the toll alcohol and drug abuse exacts from the community. But no one is expecting any fast change.

"It's such an overwhelming problem, but things can be done," said Oscar Lathlin, an NDP member of the provincial legislature and former northern chief. "It has to be an overall approach, including individuals assessing themselves and finding out why they do things."

Redhead was elected in February, partly because he was not drinking, community members said. He was seen as a chief who wanted to see progress on the reserve where poverty and unemployment are widespread.

"He was a good chief. He was excellent," said nurse Helman. "He was really trying to do something. We saw some changes."

Redhead and his wife started drinking again about one month ago, she said.