The fire that claimed nine lives in Pikangikum last week has left an entire community in shock. The victims, including three small children, represent three generations of one family. As the close-knit community in northern Ontario reels from this tragedy, three Redeemer alumni, who teach in Pikangikum, share in the community’s grief.
Erin Taylor ’13, Brooke Palahnuk ’14 and Sarah Mork ’14 all began their teaching careers in Pikangikum after graduating from Redeemer’s education program. The three were featured in a recent Tangents article about Redeemer alumni involved in First Nations education.
Now Taylor, Palahnuk and Mork are working together with other teachers in the community, opening the local school to the many crisis counsellors and family members of the deceased who have travelled to Pikangikum.
“We currently have 200 crisis team counsellors and family members from other reserves sleeping on mattresses in the school classrooms,” Mork reports. “Many different organizations have generously donated planes full of food. It has been busy preparing accommodations for all these people.” The teachers are organizing meal deliveries to counsellors and to the families closest to those who have passed away. Some of the community youth have also been helping out with food preparations.
Palahnuk reflects, “My heart is breaking for the people of this community in the wake of this tragedy. In light of that, I am filled with so much hope. It has been so incredible seeing community members step up to surround the grieving families with encouragement and support.”
All three Redeemer grads continue to covet prayers for many things: that people will seek non-destructive means of dealing with their grief; that the counsellors, community members, and local missionaries will maintain the strength they need to help others; that this incident will shed a stronger light on the poor living conditions of many of Canada’s First Nations communities and be a catalyst for government action.
Pikangikum, a community of about 3,000, is already plagued by poverty and crisis. Ontario’s Regional Chief Isadore Day reports that 95% of the homes in Pikangikum do not have running water, according to an article in The Hamilton Spectator. The community also grapples with high suicide and addiction rates.
Former classmates and professors and staff members have reached out to our alumni. “We have felt a lot of support from the Redeemer community,” Mork says. “Please pray that the Christians here would reach out to their grieving friends and neighbours and be a light in this difficult time.”
Mork and Taylor shared that the Pikangikum community could continue to use support through prayer. “We think that the best way to support the grieving families at this time is not through monetary donations, but through encouraging words. We envision people writing encouraging notes saying they are praying for them, sharing comforting Bible verses, etc. Christianity is widely accepted in Pikangikum, so Bible verses would be appreciated. We think the grieving families would be very blessed to receive notes signed by people they don’t know, but who care enough to write to them and pray for them. We would distribute these notes to the people who lost family members at the same time as we deliver food to them.” Handwritten notes will be gathered at the Church in the Box service on April 9. For those unable to attend, notes may also be sent through the form below.