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First Nations struggling with flooding

Jill Colton, staff writer

April 27, 2011 — First Nations communities are bearing the brunt of flooding.

First Nation communities that have experienced evacuations
First Nation communities that have experienced evacuations

The flood situation is having a devastating impact on hundreds of First Nations and according to Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs, Ottawa is undervaluing the lives and property of people on reserves.

“When we look at some of the more urban areas, they ensure that those people have protection...whereas they don't put the same emphasis on First Nations communities,” Evans said in an interview with The Weather Network.

According to Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the lack of protection is incredibly frustrating.

“There has yet to be the proper recognition that the lives of First Nations are just as valuable, just as precious and just as important as any other person in the country.”

Evans says nearly a thousand people have been impacted by this years flooding, including 300 homes, all in the Interlake area of southern Manitoba. The flooding situation is particularly bad in these communities because of where the reserves are located.

The Weather Network's Natalie Thomas visited Roseau River First Nation on Tuesday. She said despite a few office workers and others doing security rounds across the reservation, there aren't many people left in the area.

“There's no one walking around, it's very quiet,” said Howard Nelson, Flood Coordinator with Roseau River First Nation. “My concern was with the dike possibly breaching because of some low spots...If the dike breaches here, this whole area will fill in 15 to 20 minutes with water. So we have that time to get to high ground.”

Other flood-prone towns in southern Manitoba are protected by permanent dikes have been built up or moved to higher ground. Meanwhile, the First Nations communities continue to frantically sandbag every year.

“We need a permanent flood solution,” emphasizes Evans.

The floods are incredibly costly for First Nations.
The floods are incredibly costly for First Nations.

“Diking should be done in anticipation for the spring floods. For those communities were it's not feasible, the government should work with them to meet the request to move them to higher ground.”

Evans says the floods are extremely costly to these communities -- many of which are impoverished.

“Damages can include renovating the homes, basements and furniture.“

Not to mention the substantial health-related factors that can ensue from living in unsanitary conditions.

“What's really frustrating for us, and those that are faced with this, is that this is a recurring issue,” Atleo said.

According to Evans, some of the claims from last year's horrific floods haven't even been processed.

The Manitoba government is quick to acknowledge that First Nations are being disproportionately affected. Steve Ashton, Manitoba's emergency measures minister says the issue has been raised with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We have flagged on many occasions, the particular susceptibility of a number of First Nations communities because of the location of the homes,” said Ashton.

Currently, the federal government is studying the need for permanent protection, which includes a “combination of diking, elevating houses onto pads and relocating houses...” says Margot Geduld, spokeswoman for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

Recently in Saskatchewan, a First Nations task force was set up by the provincial government to ensure reserves have the equipment needed for massive flooding.

With files from The Canadian Press and Andrea Stockton

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