Members of a Manitoba First Nation displaced by flooding six years ago watched the first new permanent house for their community get loaded onto a transport truck in Winnipeg on Thursday.

The company overseeing the first group of houses for re-building of Lake St. Martin First Nation says it plans to start shipping 10 houses a week, eventually ramping up to 15. People are expected to start moving back in July.

In 2011, nearly 2,000 people were forced to leave the reserve and relocate to Winnipeg, 225 kilometres to the southeast. They were placed in hotels and later rental housing, often separated from each other.

The Manitoba government re-located some community members to an “interim” community in Gypsumville, Man., in 2012, but an agreement between all levels of government to re-build the reserve wasn't reached until 2014.

Chief Adrian Sinclair, who was at the Winnipeg construction site Thursday, said the displacement of his people created a “culture shock” that led many members to drug addictions and suicides.

“It’s been very hard for them to adapt to this environment, to the city environment,” he says. “I’ve lost a lot of loved ones myself,” he added.

Sinclair said some community members have found work in Winnipeg and may choose to stay, but his goal is to get his people “back to their homes and to nature and to reserve land.”

Community members gain skills

Tim Traverse was among those displaced. In Lake St. Martin, he says his days were spent trapping and fishing. In Winnipeg, he says he spent years “just sitting in the apartment, waiting to do something” and gaining weight.

His life improved in February, however, when he was hired by Matix Lumber. The company won a $32-million contract to build the first of 150 replacement homes for Lake St. Martin. It hired about 60 community members for the job.

Traverse wakes up at 5:50 a.m. in order to commute across the city to the worksite, but he says he’s enjoying the work. “It’s fun working with all these other guys too from back home.”

Traverse is also picking up skills. “I could probably work on doors now, and windows, no problem,” he says.

While Traverse misses the reserve and looks forward to going back, he says he hasn’t checked where his name sits on the schedule to return.

“Right now I’m too busy doing this job,” he said. “I’d like to be here until the last house is finished so I can work longer, get more experience.”

With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Sarah Plowman