The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) will no longer be handling the welfare of First Nations people displaced by the 2011 flood.
Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, issued a statement late Monday saying that after discussions with MANFF officials, it was decided they are ill-equipped to deliver long-term recovery services and support for evacuees.
"While the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) has done important work in the areas of emergency preparedness and response, their capacity to deliver long-term recovery services and support for evacuees is limited," Valcourt said in the statement.
"This is something that MANFF has indicated in discussions with my department."
He has asked officials from his department to start working on a "transition plan" involving MANFF, the affected First Nations, and the Manitoba government.
The Red Cross will be brought in to help but has not yet agreed to handle federal money, saying it is still examining the situation.
Officials with the agency told CBC News they will conduct a summer-long assessment of the flood evacuees' accommodations and food arrangements, among other things.
The changes come after a series of investigations by the CBC I-Team, which found that MANFF has been accused of not paying some of its bills to hotels, filing questionable overtime charges, and spending more than $1 million at a Winnipeg restaurant for late-night snacks over an eight-month period.
The owner of two hotels that house flood evacuees told the I-Team last week that MANFF co-ordinators had been negligent and even intimidating towards hotel staff and evacuees.
There is an ongoing federal investigation into the activities at MANFF.
MANFF welcomes change
The association was tasked with disbursing federal funds to First Nations members whose reserves were severely damaged by spring flooding in 2011.
Many First Nations flood evacuees continue to stay in temporary accommodations, mainly in hotels, over two years after they were displaced.
In a statement issued Tuesday, officials with MANFF said they "welcomed the transition, from its organization to the Canadian Red Cross, of services relating to the 2011 flood evacuation."
"In 2011, MANFF was asked to provide support for a challenging evacuation that was not only outside its mandate, but without precedent in Manitoba," the agency's statement reads in part.
"It felt that both the board and its employees did the best job possible and hopes that it provided some measure of support to the First Nations people who have been dislocated from their homes and communities for such an extended period of time."
Eric Robinson, Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister, says he agrees with MANFF's reasons.
"It's not really within their aims and objectives as an organization to do that kind of work, so I think that the Red Cross is better suited," Robinson told reporters on Tuesday.
Group may handle other emergencies
At the same time, the minister said he has not ruled out asking MANFF to handle short-term evacuations in future emergencies.
"They have a certain degree of experience, obviously — and I don't for a moment forget about that — and they have certain capabilities," Robinson said.
"But on the other hand, they're the ones that are getting out of the business for dealing with long-term evacuees."
Bertha Traverse, a flood evacuee who was forced from her home on the Little Saskatchewan First Nation and is currently staying at Misty Lake Lodge, said she’s glad to see MANFF go.
"I believe the evacuees will now be getting better care," she said. "There’s a lot of people out there that are having social problems — a lot of depression."
Traverse said MANFF didn’t respond to concerns she brought to them, and she hopes the Red Cross will be able to do a good job of managing the evacuees moving forward.
Full statement from MANFF
The Manitoba Association of Native FireFighters Inc. (MANFF) today welcomed the transition, from its organization to the Canadian Red Cross, of services relating to the 2011 flood evacuation. As part of this process, MANFF is committed to ensuring a smooth changeover.
In 2011, MANFF was asked to provide support for a challenging evacuation that was not only outside its mandate, but without precedent in Manitoba.
It felt that both the board and its employees did the best job possible and hopes that it provided some measure of support to the First Nations people who have been dislocated from their homes and communities for such an extended period of time.
The transition of services to the Red Cross will allow MANFF to return to focusing on its core strengths and areas of expertise which include:
- Providing training for First Nations fire fighters;
- Conducting fire-prevention work for Manitoba reserves;
- Helping prepare emergency management plans for reserves;
- Overseeing short-term emergency evacuations;
- Offering educational program for First Nations communities.
MANFF thanked those who entrusted them with this challenge and who supported them through a process that was often difficult. Its hope is that the organization will be stronger as a result of this experience.
MANFF looks forward to maintaining its relationship with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) so that it may continue to assist with future endeavors that fall within its mandate of supporting First Nations.