The province says it’s hiring two independent investigators to look into why six Indigenous men have died at a supportive housing project in Smithers over the past year.
That follows a call last week from the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre and BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres for an Indigenous-led investigation.
“The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society has recognized that Smithers is the poorest example of Indigenous housing in the province,” the organization’s executive director Annette Morgan recently told The Tyee.
One of the two investigators will reportedly be from the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
The news of six fatalities in a housing project that was only opened in 2019 has shaken the community. “We are demanding answers and we send our prayers and condolences to the families and friends impacted by the loss,” The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society wrote on Facebook.
The centre thanked local MLA Nathan Cullen for taking the issue seriously, saying that he had “aside what he was doing to make the time to hear the messages and concerns.”
“It’s incredibly tragic,” Cullen told The Interior News. “I knew a lot of these guys, beautiful each and every one in their own way. I’m feeling for their families and also the staff, everybody is just reeling.”
The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre suggested that Goodacre Place, where the deaths took place, didn’t provide the “Indigenous-led, culturally safe supportive housing” that vulnerable First Nations people struggling with addiction and lack of housing require.
Goodacre Place is run by the Smithers Community Services Association.
The association’s executive director Cathryn Olmstead said in a statement that it welcomes the independent review, saying “Our hope is that as a community we can face these challenging and complex situations in a constructive and collaborative way that pulls people together.”