Chemawawin Cree Nation students get free grad garb after wildfire evacuation
Winnipeg organizations donate money, graduation dresses and tuxedos after grad ceremony cut short
Nineteen Grade 12 students from Chemawawin Cree Nation will get a second crack at graduation in Winnipeg after ceremonies were cut short last week when a forest fire forced people to leave the community at short notice.
About 2,000 people people fled the community "without their papers," without some of the most basic possessions, on June 23 after the province declared a state of emergency, Chemawawin School vice-principal Sandra Lavallee said.
"My days are just mixed up," she said. "It was such a rushed event that we didn't have time to plan to bring clothes. We had to get people out."
The evacuation order interrupted a graduation ceremony that was going on in a big tent at the local school.
Lavallee said she could tell the air quality was worsening before she received a text from the school principal telling her the ceremony had to be cancelled.
'It was really heartbreaking'
"I kind of ignored it because we wanted to finish the ceremony for our graduates," Lavallee said. "Once people heard about the graduation ceremony being cut without much notice, our grads were very emotional.... It was really heartbreaking."
"We had to shoo everyone out, we had to give the diplomas in a hasty manner," Lavallee said. "Our graduates were kind of looking around not really knowing what was fully taking place."
'Support has been overwhelming'
Word spread quickly that evacuees were sent to Winnipeg to wait out the fire.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Canadian Red Cross sprung into action and helped get everyone settled, Lavallee said. But the grads in particular were given special attention.
With just two days to plan, MKO, AMC, the Red Cross and others have helped put together another graduation ceremony for the students in Winnipeg, with Le Chateau and Mallabar Apparels providing grads with tuxes and dresses, free of charge. Corsages are also being donated.
Lavallee took some of the students to Le Chateau on Ellice Avenue Monday afternoon to pick out dresses.
"The support has been overwhelming," Lavallee said. "I can't get over the fact that people have noticed our dilemma and are willing to help our students get the proper graduation ceremony."
Christina Norris Salon has volunteered to do hair and makeup for the grads,
An emotional Amber Gott said getting a second chance to have a graduation ceremony in Winnipeg means a lot to her.
"The generosity of so many people that we were actually able to make this happen for us after being evacuated so suddenly … it's a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am glad that I get to experience it to the fullest."
Chemawawin Chief Clarence Easter announced Sunday night that officials with the province told him the fire no longer poses a threat to the community. The evacuation order was expected to be lifted Monday.
Chemawawin Cree Nation is located in Easterville, Man., about 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.