Kashechewan residents fearing COVID-19 head to camps to avoid flood waters

Kashechewan residents fearing COVID-19 head to camps to avoid flood waters

Kashechewan residents fearing COVID-19 head to camps to avoid flood waters

OTTAWA — Residents of a First Nation in northern Ontario threatened by spring flooding are facing more complex and some fear-inducing options for escape this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The almost 2,000 residents of Kashechewan First Nation have had to flee their community every year since 2012 due to flooding, removed to larger centres such as Timmins and Thunder Bay.

But this year, many residents are worried about catching the novel coronavirus or bringing it back into their community.

That’s why about 1,200 people have instead decided to wait out the flood season on the land, with some setting up camps in their traditional territories and others planning to camp in an area known as Site 5, about 30 kilometres from the First Nation, where the community is eventually supposed to be moved.

The remaining 800-odd residents are staying put, hoping the waters don’t rise too high this year and force them to leave.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the flood plan for Kashechewan this year is more complex due to the additional risk the pandemic places on the First Nation’s residents.

“COVID-19 in any community has complexified any sort of movement and with a community like Kashechewan that has had this preventative relocation and evacuation for the last few years, COVID-19 has intensely complexified some of the planning,” Miller said in a recent interview.

“You can imagine, with people very worried and fearful about their health, you have to layer the epidemic plan on top of a potential evacuation plan.”

The federal government is providing $2 million to support those who will relocate to camps, ensuring they have adequate resources and supplies, including medical and sanitary resources.

To protect the safety of those staying in Kashechewan, water levels are being measured closely with daily fly-overs while residents remain on higher ground.

Miller said these plans reflect the desires of the residents.

However, the chief and council of Kashechewan sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in early March, asking for military engineers to help construct an evacuation camp at Site 5, complete with enough tents and supplies for all 2,000 residents.

“…(I)ce break up on the Albany River is approaching fast. We expect it to be in early May. That gives us only few weeks to plan and execute this project,” part of the letter reads.

“Being on the land, cut off from distractions and most media, may prove to be helpful to our youth, learning survivor (skills) and living off the land.”

Interview requests to Chief Leo Friday Wednesday were not returned.

The department of National Defence confirmed to APTN News last month it was in discussions with the community about options for the proposed evacuation camp. But those never materialized.

Miller suggested this is because not everyone in the community wanted to go to such a camp.

“There are members who have moved to Site 5, but perhaps not in the numbers that were initially contemplated would go based on the letter that chief and council sent to the prime minister six or seven weeks ago.”

But NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the riding encompassing Kashechewan, says he believes government was too slow to respond to the First Nation’s request, and many people decided to head out on their own to their traditional camps rather than wait for Ottawa.

He’s concerned about what will happen to those who are waiting in the flood-prone community, as the nearby waters have already begun to rise.

“What happens if the flood waters rise quickly and there’s still 800-some people in the community? Where do they go? That’s still not clear.”

Several of the surrounding Ontario municipalities that usually host First Nations residents fleeing floods and fires have said they can’t take evacuees this year, including Thunder Bay and Kapuskasing. Others have raised concerns about a lack of resources and personnel to handle an influx of evacuees, due to facility closures and layoffs caused by the pandemic.

Angus says this, coupled with the fears among Kashechewan residents of being relocated to cities with outbreaks of COVID-19, has led to deep concerns about where those who are not able to camp in tents for the flood season will go.

“We’ve asked for them to look at other options, maybe a military site, places where, if we had to evacuate them, we could do so safely and maintain the distancing that is necessary, because everybody knows in the Treaty 9 region, if COVID gets into one of the communities, it will have a devastating impact,” Angus said.

Miller said sites have been identified in nearby towns and cities if floods force the remaining residents to leave and that COVID-19 distancing protocols will be followed.

“Of all the evolving floodings and potentials for the wildfire season, this is the one that is of intense preoccupation for me and my team. But I’m confident the plans that we’ve put into place are the best ones, given the circumstances.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Marilyn Chidlow. (File photo)
Ponoka figure skating leader celebrated on her birthday

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame celebrated Ponoka inductee Marilyn Chidlow on… Continue reading

Elder Muriel Lee. (Photo submitted)
Maskwacis Elder Mentoring Program connects Elders with young parents

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News The Maskwacis Elders Mentoring Program, which… Continue reading

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Red Fraggle, one of Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock characers, is shown at Time To Play Holiday Show, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children’s puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Lennihan
‘Fraggle Rock’ children’s puppet series reboot starts production in Calgary

A spokesperson says the new series will stream on Apple TV plus

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal collision

Preliminary investigation revealed a south bound pickup truck collided with an eastbound car

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Most Read