A plan to relocate and rebuild the Lake St. Martin First Nation is offering hope to some of the 1,100 members who have been living in Winnipeg since the 2011 flood forced them out of their homes.
First Nation officials met with members on Thursday to talk about the new deal, which proposes rebuilding the community on land near the existing reserve site in Manitoba's Interlake.
A memorandum of understanding that sets the "parameters for a final settlement agreement" was signed earlier this week by the First Nation and the provincial and federal governments.
The deal needs the support of at least 51 per cent of Lake St. Martin members in order for the rebuilding project to receive about $300 million in government funding.
"I'm feeling relieved. I just hope that people agree with it and so we can all go home," Allan Sinclair, a band member and flood evacuee, said Thursday.
"Oh yeah, I want to go home too. Everybody wants to go home."
Said Roderick Nanacowop, another flood evacuee, "I feel happy about that. I would like to go home soon…. We miss it a lot, so I am glad the chief does something about it."
Members displaced for 3 years
The people of Lake St. Martin, located about 255 kilometres north of Winnipeg, have been displaced since 2011 because of spring flooding.
Nanacowop and Sinclair are among about 1,100 First Nation members who have been living in hotels and apartments in Winnipeg for the past three years.
"I had a job and everything when I was out there … and since we got evacuated out here, it all went away," said Sinclair, who has been working odd jobs for his landlord while looking for work.
Some other evacuees have been in homes in a temporary village, set up by the Manitoba government, on a decommissioned military radar base.
Earlier this year, the Manitoba government said it is working toward a final settlement with four flood-hit First Nations, including Lake St. Martin, that would address flood claims related to the Fairford River water control structure.
Vote coming in September
The Lake St. Martin First Nation's new reserve land will total more than 1,600 hectares just northwest of the current community.
The plan will include building 400 new houses for Lake St. Martin's 2,500 on-reserve band members, a new school, and infrastructure such as roads and sewers.
The provincial and federal governments have agreed to split the costs of rebuilding the First Nation, which could reach up to $300 million.
Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair said the community will vote on the plan in September.
"There's going to be some people that are going to be against it but … evacuees are determined to go back home, and they are very thrilled and they're eager to start," he said.
Sinclair said the rebuilding plan will still move ahead if it is rejected, but with half the funding.