Some Thunder Bay citizens are trying to help people from Kashechewan feel welcome in the city.

Floods have forced almost 600 residents of the remote First Nation to relocate in Thunder Bay.

Willow Blasizzo circulated an image on social media that features a welcome message in Cree and English — something she said she did because she wanted to counter the negative comments she kept seeing on the internet.

Willow Blasizzo

Willow Blasizzo says its important for people to remember that the Kashechewan evacuees are community members and families who are being forced out of their homes. "It's not an easy time for them." (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"These community members and families are being forced out of their homes,” she said.

“And, in some cases, they may even be separated from their families during this time. It's not an easy time for them.”

Fran Loney is organizing a barbecue for the evacuees from Kashechewan. She said negative comments on the internet also motivated her to act.

“I decided to be the opposite and say, 'welcome … sorry you're going through this.'”

Blasizzo said she shared her displeasure with the negative commenters online. People responded to her by reminding her that people show support in their own way through simple gestures such as smiling at people or striking up a conversation.

"There's also a really big need for us to be able to do that online,” she said.

“Often times we're just bombarded by negativity, the negative comments online on the news media's media web sites, on Facebook, and I really wanted to be able to counter that with something positive. And the bottom line is I'm a Thunder Bay resident [and] I welcome the flood evacuees because that's the best thing I can do for them at this time."

Kashechewan evacuees

A Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft, the CC-130J Hercules operated by 436 (Transport) Squadron out of 8 Wing Trenton, evacuated flood victims stranded in Fort Albany and Kashechewan, on May 8. Many were transported to Thunder Bay. (Cpl. Rod Doucet/8 Wing Imaging)

The image Blasizzo designed is “a simple photograph of the Sleeping Giant that I had taken, and I just put the message on there that I'm a Thunder Bay resident, I welcome the Kashechewan flood evacuees to the city with the Big Heart.”

“Thunder Bay is known … as the city with the big heart, she continued. “So this is our chance to be able to prove that.  And I also included on the image on the design a welcome greeting in Cree syllabics."

Blasizzo posted the image on Facebook and tweeted it on Twitter, and her family help forward it to others.

Loney noted many Thunder Bay residents should easily empathize with the Kashechewan evacuees, particularly after the devastating flood in the city two years ago.

Hosting a barbecue for the Kashechewan evacuees was an idea that easily came to her.

"Last time we had a flood, it was done.  It was an amazing success,” she said. “I'm a copy cat." 

Anyone who wants to help organize the barbeque can look up Loney on Facebook and send her a message.

kash welcome sign

Thunder Bay resident Willow Blasizzo designed this poster "after I was reading some news stories online about the [Kashechewan] evacuees coming in and [I read] some negative comments ... that weren't very welcoming." (Willow Blasizzo)