Flood evacuee kids face homework, but no home

Federal red tape blamed for slowing resettlement talks

  • Hotel rooms are a reality for 600 refugees from Lake St. Martin First Nation who are waiting in Winnipeg to learn where their flooded reserve will be relocated. – Dylan Hewlett

While Manitoba’s summer deluge of flood news has slowed to a trickle, little has changed for the 1,300 evacuees still waiting to go home.

For members of Peguis First Nation, the wait could be over by Christmas.

But for 600 refugees from Lake St. Martin First Nation, the future is more uncertain. They’re still waiting - in Winnipeg hotels - to learn where home might turn out to be.

The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters has been looking after accommodations and services for the people stranded here. Angel Compton, recreation director for the association, says little has changed for evacuees since arriving in Winnipeg in May.

“I guess the only thing now is that we’ve got a lot of attention for the help that they need,” she said.

Much of that attention was drawn to the need for evacuee kids to have something to do. As a result, nearly 20 local organizations collaborated to set up day camps, starting in the last week of July.

The University of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre (WASAC) set up a five-week camp modeled on the WASAC Eco-U Kid’s Camps. The camp offered four hours a day of sports, team-building games, environmental education, cultural teachings, swimming, and arts and crafts.

The university also expanded its summer soccer camp to make room for evacuee kids.

But with day camps winding down and Labour Day weekend fast approaching, parents still had no definite word on where their kids would be starting school.

“I’ve heard that plans are in the works for a facility to school all of the Lake St. Martin children - just to keep the kids together,” said Roseanne Beardy, a Lake St. Martin flood co-ordinator.
Compton doesn’t expect that hope to be realized.

“They’ll probably be jumping into local schools nearby their hotels. We haven’t heard any specific plans,” she said. “Some of the groups wanted to get their children all in one school, but ... wherever they are, I think is where they’re going to be going.”

The province is willing to help us in whatever way. It’s (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) that is not willing to grant the reserve status.

Judy Ricker, communications officer for Lake St. Martin

This year’s flood disaster was the last straw after 50 years of near-annual flooding in the Lake St. Martin area. Now, most of the community is homeless, waiting to move to drier ground.

As the wait dragged on, about 60 Lake St. Martin evacuees demonstrated at the legislature Aug. 11, demanding the province acquire land to set up a temporary community on a site north of Ashern, along Highway 6. 

At the same time, Chief Adrien Sinclair and other members of his community emphasized a need for federal involvement in discussions with the First Nation and the province, because only the federal government can grant reserve status for the site chosen.

Judy Ricker, a communications officer for Lake St. Martin, said that while support is not unanimous, a majority of Lake St. Martin members agree with the demonstrators’ choice of site.

Once a site is available, Ricker said it should be possible to get the land cleared and homes in place within six to eight weeks.

Still, Ricker sees the federal government as the main source of delay. 

“The province is willing to help us in whatever way,” she said, “It’s INAC (recently renamed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, or AANDC) that is not willing to grant the reserve status.”

She said that, earlier, the federal department had promised funding.

“They said that they would help as long as the First Nation and the province can come to an agreement - that they would fund the project, whatever it may be. They’re the ones that are doing the stalling.”

A staff member in Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson’s office would only say that several sites have been brought forward and remain under consideration.

“The sooner there’s a decision made on which site it will be, the faster things will move, but they’re still going to move not as fast as anyone wants,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of progress over the summer,” he added. “But ... trying to get land set apart as a reserve is extremely time-consuming, detailed and frustrating.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2011)

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