Residents of the Kawacatoose First Nation are experiencing severe emotional shock in the aftermath of a tornado that tore through the community last Friday, destroying 20 homes and leaving more than 80 people homeless.
"I went to this debriefing sharing circle at the band office, and I actually got to express how I felt and let out some tears like I never did before," said Allanis Asapace.
Asapace and her family were in their home when the tornado hit without warning last Friday around 5:30 p.m.
The tornado was classified as an F3 in terms of intensity, with winds of 250 to 300 km/h. There were no serious injuries, but one insurance estimate places the physical damage to buildings in the $3-million range.
The emotional damage is more difficult to quantify, say community leaders.
Residents have been left to cope with the tornado's after-effects: namely, fear, trauma and the loss of their dwellings and possessions.
Government officials say the entire community has been affected by post-traumatic stress. Some residents have refused to leave the damaged areas and others not directly hit by the tornado have flocked to the tornado-hit sites and don't want to leave.
Crisis counselors and therapists have arrived in the community to help, stressing that talking about what happened is an important part of accepting it. As time passes, people are starting to realize that losing a home is almost like losing a family member, the counselors say.
Grant Severight of the White Raven Healing Centre said counselors are taking on the role of being good listeners.
"Those who are receiving counseling are usually the storytellers, and we are the ones who listen to that and to try and help and sort of guide them through a process of healing and some reconciliation to what happened to them," he said.
He said First Nations communities are close-knit collectives and healing together is what seems to work best for them.
Kawacatoose First Nation is about 120 km north of Regina, near Raymore, Sask. About 1,100 people live on the reserve in only 190 houses – which amounts to an average of almost six people per dwelling.
Among the 82 residents left homeless by the tornado are 26 children and one pregnant woman. Those displaced from their homes have been living with family or in hotels in Regina, Saskatoon and Raymore. The community has put out a call for donations of clothing and personal items such as shampoo.[GALLERY id=3656 cat=regions/saskatchewan]