Aboriginal communities hit hard by Manitoba floods

More than half of the Manitobans who have been forced out of their homes due to flooding this year are from First Nations communities.

First Nation members account for 62% of Manitoba flood evacuees this year

First Nations members account for 62% of Manitoba flood evacuees this year 1:39

More than half of the Manitobans who have been forced out of their homes due to this year's floods are from First Nations communities.

Of the 729 people who are currently out of their homes because of flooding, 454 of them are aboriginal, a spokesperson with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada told CBC News on Thursday.

Nearly half of the aboriginal flood evacuees come from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, located between Brandon and Virden in southwestern Manitoba.

Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson Brock Holowachuk said of the 454 First Nations evacuees in the province, 268 are registered with the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) and are staying in hotels.

The remaining evacuees are staying with family and friends, he said.

Holowachuk said the First Nations flood evacuees are from the following communities:

  • Sioux Valley Dakota Nation — 196 evacuees.
  • Ebb and Flow First Nation  112.
  • Peguis First Nation — 50.
  • Ochi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation (Crane River) — 29.
  • Waywayseecappo First Nation  27.
  • Lake Manitoba First Nation — 20.
  • Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation  10.
  • Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation — 10.

Sioux Valley flood evacuee Margaret Roscelli said she and about 100 other people have been staying in a hotel in Brandon, Man., since floodwaters surged into their community almost two weeks ago.

"When I stepped into that water, it was so cold. It came up to my waist. It was extremely cold — it was like a shock to your system," she said.

Roscelli said her home was surrounded by water, but it was still standing. However, she and other evacuees are worried.

"When can we go back? I guess that's the biggest worry," she said.

"People are wondering, you know, how long is it going to be? When can we return? And that's my fear, too."

The Manitoba government says of the 729 flood evacuees province-wide, 160 of them have actually been out of their homes since the spring.

As well, Holowachuk said the Canadian Red Cross remains in charge of the 1,944 Manitoba First Nations members who are still out of their home communities due to the 2011 flood. He said they are all staying in rental properties in Winnipeg.

Aboriginal leaders demand action

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs demanded Friday the province to do more to help First Nations people affected by flooding.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the province's priority should be getting the 454 people evacuated from their homes this year, and the nearly 2,000 from 2011, back where they belong. 

"Our people like to be on the land. They like to be on the water. They like to be in their home communities around family," Nepinak said. "To be in hotels, that's not good for our people."

Aboriginal leaders crowded into a downtown meeting room in Winnipeg Friday to make public their list of demands, which include an environmental impact assessment on the Lake St. Martin emergency channel and full consultations with First Nations on any future operation of the Portage Diversion and on the development of a new channel.

Nepinak said the province has not consulted with flood-affected First Nations. He is also demanding fair compensation for evacuees and those whose livelihoods have been affected, such as people in the fishing industry. He said First Nations people must have their say. 

"No future channel will be developed without the express consent from Treaty Two people," he said. 

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger admitted resolving First Nations flood issues is slow going, but he defended efforts the province has made to protect flooded First Nations. 

"We opened the emergency channel to lower the water on Lake St. Martin to lower the water where the First Nations communities are, for the most part, living. And that's to protect those communities," he said. 

Selinger said compensation for this year's flooding is already in the works. 

"When it comes to working with the fishermen, we're completely ready to do that," he said. "We did that in 2011 and we're ready to it again."

In the meantime, a protest at the Lake St. Martin emergency channel will continue, vowed Nepinak, to send a message about First Nations' determination to change the "dynamic" of the relationship with the provincial government. 

"Right now, we're putting everyone on notice that we're going to continue to maintain that line and we're putting all our support behind it," Nepinak said.