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4 teens face charges after fire razes Eabametoong First Nation's only school

A fire engulfed Eabametoong First Nation's only school last week, affecting students from kindergarten through Grade 9. On Monday, the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) said four teenagers have been charged. (Submitted by Chris Papah - image credit)
A fire engulfed Eabametoong First Nation's only school last week, affecting students from kindergarten through Grade 9. On Monday, the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) said four teenagers have been charged. (Submitted by Chris Papah - image credit)

Police have charged four teenagers in connection with last week's fire at the only school in Eabametoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

The fire Thursday shortly after 7:10 a.m. razed the John C. Yesno Education Centre, which is for students from kindergarten to Grade 9 students.

Initially, two youths, 14 and 17, were arrested following the incident, which was determined to be consistent with arson, but no charges were laid at that time.

In a news release Monday afternoon, the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) noted that four teenagers — a female, 13, and three males ages 13, 14 and 17 — were each charged with:

  • Arson, disregard for human life.

  • Arson, damage to property.

  • Mischief over $5,000.

  • Possession of incendiary material.

The 17-year-old also faces charges of possession of break-in instruments and assaulting a peace officer.

None of the youths can be released under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Eabametoong is a remote fly-in community of 1,600 people about 360 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

Chief Solomon Atlookan and his council said in a statement last week that the fire "will deprive approximately 299 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 9 of an education," and that the community was working with various provincial, federal and Indigenous organizations to set up virtual education so the students can continue learning.

Police say the four teenagers were taken into custody and are set to appear in court Tuesday.

The investigation is ongoing, says the NAPS.

This is the second arson the community has faced in under a year. In July, a fire at the water treatment plant forced a community evacuation, which lasted about three weeks.

Raising money to rebuild

A fundraiser page, called "Achieving the Dream Through Education," has been set up by Matawa First Nations Management through Canada Helps to assist the community in rebuilding its school. The page has been shared on social media by a number of First Nations leaders and groups, including the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority.

"On Jan. 25, 2024, Eabametoong First Nation experienced the devastating loss of their school from a raging fire. Their school was the safe haven for most of the youth and children. The students have seen all of their beloved school supplies, cultural and land-based supplies, and years of memories burn," it says.

Greg Rickford, Ontario's Indigenous affairs minister, told CBC News last week that the province is supporting the community by:

  • Providing any additional resources or personnel from the province to keep the area safe.

  • Supporting any investigations into the cause of the fire.

  • Helping co-ordinate support for children who have lost their school.