REGINA — Relatives of a woman who died in her Regina home say they were forced to hold a backyard funeral for her because they couldn’t get help from the Saskatchewan government.
Crystal Machiskinic received support under the province’s assured income for the disabled.
It covered basic funeral costs for people on social assistance, but that funding was cut in the March budget.
It was partially restored starting July 1, but the new flat rate of $2,100 is almost $1,800 less than it used to be.
The family says that because Machiskinic died the Friday before the July 1 long weekend, they couldn’t reach anyone in the Ministry of Social Services to confirm that some expenses would be covered.
Jeff Reddekop, with the ministry, says he can’t comment on the case due to privacy rules.
The service was delayed until this past Friday — contrary to First Nations culture in which funeral rites need to be completed within four days.
“We couldn’t arrange to have the funeral in a facility because we can’t afford it,” Carrie Stonechild, Machiskinic’s sister, said last week.
“All they had to do was pick up that phone, make that call and tell us, yes, they were going to cover expenses.
“In our culture, we have certain ceremonies that we do in those four days to send our loved ones into the spirit world. And not being able to do that, we’re very upset and hurt … We should have had her rested and done our ceremonies within those four days.”
Stonechild said there were other factors which contributed to the delay, but her frustration mounted when she finally reached someone from Social Services.
“A manager told … Crystal’s daughter to ‘get in line’ on the call centre phone. Another manager offered no condolences whatsoever … and they said it’s not their fault. It was the long weekend.
“It was just a very rude tone in their voices.”
Reddekop said in instances such as this, the department contacts a family the next business day, which in this case was a Tuesday.
“We understand how challenging it can be to make decisions on behalf of the family when a loved one has passed,” he said. “We very much understand what this family is experiencing, and would like to offer our sincere condolences to this family for their loss.”
Reddekop added the ministry has not received any other complaints about their practices interfering with a family’s ability to make funeral arrangements while respecting cultural or religious practices.
“I know it was the long weekend but at times like that, they should have backup people,” said Stonechild, who was planning to write a letter of complaint to the government with the help of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry.
“Is this what it takes for somebody to wake up and respect our way? I don’t want this to happen to anybody else in the future.”
The Canadian Press