British Columbia

'It's gone': Shackan chief says floods have swept away First Nation's land, home

The leader of a 130-member First Nation in the Nicola Valley that's been devastated by flooding says he's not sure when people can return home after seeing the devastation wrought by raging flood waters two weeks ago.

Chief Arnold Lampreau says he has yet to hear from B.C. government 2 weeks after devastating floods

"I've got elders asking me everyday ... 'Chief, do you think we are going to come home?'" says Chief Arnold Lampreau of the Shackan Indian Band, pictured here on an empty street in Merritt, B.C. on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The leader of a 130-member First Nation in B.C.'s Nicola Valley that's been devastated by flooding says he's not sure when people can return home after seeing the devastation wrought by raging flood waters two weeks ago.

"Our whole livelihood has been washed away within 30 hours … houses, fields, cattle and people. There's people [from the valley] still missing," said Shackan First Nation Chief Arnold (Arnie) Lampreau.

The Shackan Indian Band is one of five First Nations located along Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge.

After the neighbouring community of the Coldwater Indian Band were placed on evacuation alert, the chief said he and others went door to door to alert the approximately 45 residents living on reserve lands.

Flood damage on Shackan First Nation land in B.C.'s Nicola Valley. (Keith Fransson/Urban Systems/Shackan First Nation)

About a dozen refused to leave at first, but the rising flood eventually forced them to drive out in half a metre of water, he said.

None of his band members are missing, but at least one 70-year-old woman from the area is believed to have been swept away with her house.

According to Lampreau, hundreds of residents on reserve lands along Highway 8 initially fled to Merritt, which was later evacuated when the wastewater system failed. They were then moved to Kamloops, where Lampreau said many were told to wait in a hockey arena.

He said some Indigenous people waited hours — and in the worst cases, days — in their cars without food or help.

Almost two weeks after rain-driven floods ravaged Nicola River lands in B.C.'s southern Interior, Lampreau says nobody from the provincial government has connected with him.

"I've told Emergency Management B.C. to pound sand because they didn't look after our people — we fell through the cracks," he said.

'It's heartbreaking'

The chief flew over the Nicola Valley on Wednesday to survey the losses, and described what he saw in a video call Thursday from his Merritt band office, where he and councillors are co-ordinating relief.

He said lines of telephone poles were sheared off and heavy steel bridges "tossed like toothpicks," while some homes had been swallowed by water and "erased" by the river.

"Now there's just rocks and river. There is no more land between those rocks and river," he said. 

Chief Arnold Lampreau of the Shackan Indian Band is pictured in Merritt, B.C. outside the band office on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, where he and councillors are coordinating relief efforts. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He paused and wiped his eyes.

"I've got elders asking me every day ... 'Chief, do you think we are going to come home?' I'm scared that I'm going to lose them elders while we are out. They are not going to be able to see their homelands. They are not going to be able to see their grandchildren thriving on the lands that they cleared, that they prepared for them. It's gone."

"It's heartbreaking. It's hard for me to sleep at night," said Lampreau.

Hwy 8 zone 'impacted beyond belief'

In a public daily briefing today, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says Emergency Management B.C. is focused on helping people who have been driven from properties along Highway 8.

"That particular highway was impacted beyond belief," said Farnworth.

He said the military is helping with food and supply drops by helicopter and assessing the safety of highways.

Highway 8 has been eroded by flooding of the Nicola River, seen here Nov. 17, 2021, two days after an atmospheric river event hit the province. (Urban Systems/Schackan Indian Band)

He also said the province is working with the federal government to determine what's available for disaster relief, especially for farmers and ranchers who have lost everything in flood zones.

Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osborne said the province can expect more catastrophic events in the future and nobody expects communities to handle rebuilding alone.

CBC has reached out to Emergency Management B.C. and the province for further comment.

Shackan First Nation land near Highway 8 in the Nicola Valley, pictured here from a helicopter on Nov. 17, 2021, has been carved and scoured by massive floods after rains swelled rivers and caused catastrophic damage. (Urban Systems/Schackan Indian Band)


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award. Got a tip?

With files from Doug Herbert