North

West Point First Nation in Hay River considering relocation, says band office employee

'This is going to be happening every year, and we can't be living like this anymore. We need change,' said Wendy Ross, who works for West Point First Nation’s band office and Finance department.

'This is going to be happening every year, and we can't be living like this anymore,' says Wendy Ross

A truck is flipped over on the roadside on West Point First Nation in Hay River, N.W.T. after flooding this month. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

After floods devastated parts of Hay River, N.W.T., this month, West Point First Nation is considering relocating to higher ground, says a band office employee.

"This is going to be happening every year, and we can't be living like this anymore. We need change," said Wendy Ross, who works for West Point First Nation's band office and Finance department. The First Nation is located in Hay River. 

Ross said more than 80 members of West Point First Nation live in the Hay River area or out of town, and about half of them live in West Point proper, which was hit hard by the floods. 

West Point residents are meeting on Monday to discuss their future, she said, and she believes a majority of them want to move the community.

West Point First Nation Chief Kenneth Cayen declined to comment on any potential relocation discussions. 

'We're not giving it up'

Earlier this month, flooding forced all of Hay River to be evacuated. Ross said that while evacuations of West Point First Nation's area are common this time of year, the community has never seen destruction like that which occurred during this spring's ice breakup. 

The floods in Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Hay River, N.W.T., swept some buildings away, leaving them on roads. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

Ross added that the community has never relocated before. 

If residents decide they want to move, she said, the First Nation would turn its current location into a heritage site. 

"We're not giving it up," she said.

It's unclear what relocation would entail, and what roles the Northwest Territories and federal governments would play.

Kashechewan First Nation, a Cree community of about 1,800 people in Ontario, is also regularly evacuated due to spring flooding, and community members have wanted to relocate for decades. 

New homes being built in Kashechewan, Ont., in 2017 for people returning from flood evacuations. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

In 2019, the federal government agreed to help move the community — within eight to 10 years.

CBC News sent questions about the possible relocation of West Point First Nation to the territorial and federal governments over the long weekend. The N.W.T. government did not respond before publication.

A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said given the holiday, it could only provide a partial response. That emailed response didn't address West Point's potential relocation.

It did say that the N.W.T. government is responsible for emergency management, and that the federal government will reimburse the territorial department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) for including Kátł'odeeche First Nation reserve in its preliminary damage assessment.

"After damage assessments are completed, [Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs/Indigenous Services Canada], MACA and Kátł'odeeche First Nation will begin remediation and recovery planning," reads the emailed statement.

'It's just a mess'

This past weekend, Ross and other West Point residents were still working to clean up and repair their properties. 

Ross hadn't yet returned to her own home because of significant damage to her property.

"My water tank is contaminated, it was under the house. My fuel tank flipped over. It's just a mess," she said.

Ross said her community really needs support from the territorial government.

"We're all affected here," she said. "People lost their homes. We've never lost homes before, but this time we did. We lost a lot of homes, and we really need their support right now."

Ross said West Point First Nation met with Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson, and that she's "100 per cent supporting our community and anything we need." Dene Nation has also offered its support, she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sidney Cohen

Journalist

Sidney Cohen is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife.

With files from Olivia Stefanovich and Erik White

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