First Nations bearing brunt of Prairie flood: chiefs
Published Thursday, April 14, 2011 8:12PM EDT
Some of Canada's top aboriginal leaders say it's unacceptable that First Nations communities across the Prairies are being hardest hit as waters rise in the region.
So far, flood waters have imperiled at least 50 communities across the Prairies, with hundreds of people being evacuated as a precaution.
This week alone, 300 people were evacuated from the Peguis First Nation north of Winnipeg. Another 125 or so have been evacuated from the Cowessess reserve in Saskatchewan.
Shawn Atleo, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says such numbers are representative of a larger issue right across the country.
"There is no reason why First Nations shouldn't be afforded the same level of protection," Atleo told The Canadian Press.
"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."
On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister and Conservative Manitoba MP Vic Toews spoke about how the province had done major work in the region since the major flood of 1997.
A major floodway has been built around Winnipeg, allowing officials greater control of rising waters, and Toews told CTV that many communities near the Red River are well-protected.
However, aboriginal communities don't appear to be as well-prepared, said Atleo.
"I am personally so frustrated that our people who are already the most vulnerable, already the most impoverished, do not have the kind of protection that other citizens in the country have come to expect from their government."
Atleo noted that many areas in southern Manitoba have permanent dikes, with low-laying homes being moved to higher ground. But many First Nations communities are scrambling to sandbag ahead of the floods, he said.
"What's really frustrating for us, and those that are faced with this, is that this is a recurring issue … People are being dispossessed. This is hugely traumatic ... It has to stop."
Ron Evans, who heads up the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says the evacuations have an impact on all Canadians, too.
"Taxpayers should be concerned," he said.
"We have to evacuate communities and that gets costly. It gets costly to repair the damage that the flooding brings. When you weigh that as opposed to what the permanent solution should be, I think one should be more responsible with ... (the) funds."
But federal officials say that $130 million was spent to protect the Roseau River First Nation, near the American border, after the 1997 flood.
And Margot Geduld, an official with Indian and Northern Affairs, said the department set aside $3.2 million for Peguis preparations this year, including $1.1 million for drainage gear and sandbags.
"A combination of diking, elevating houses onto pads and relocating houses is being pursued and the costs for these activities are still under discussion," she wrote in an email to CP.
Meanwhile, residents in Alberta were slammed with heavy snow during a fierce spring storm on Thursday. In Medicine Hat, locals were still watching an earthen dam that was showing signs of erosion.
On Wednesday, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach visited the city and the nearby Seven Persons Reservoir.
While the area has been hit with more snow, cooler temperatures were also sweeping into the region, making the thaw less intense and slowing down rising creeks and rivers.
While mandatory evacuations had been lifted in the city, a local state of emergency was still in effect for Medicine Hat Thursday, CTV Calgary reported.
With files from The Associated Press