Kashechewan First Nation evacuated due to flood concerns

Kashechewan First Nation has declared a state of emergency and hundreds of residents are being moved to the northern Ontario town of Kapuskasing over concerns about flooding.

Latest state of emergency comes as new agreement considers moving remote northern Ontario First Nation

Residents of Kapuskasing, Ont., welcome evacuees from Kashechewan First Nation on Monday. Fears of flooding have forced the relocation of hundreds of people. (Francis Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Kashechewan First Nation has declared a state of emergency and hundreds of residents are being moved to the northern Ontario town of Kapuskasing over concerns about flooding.

The evacuation of the First Nation located along the James Bay began Sunday and continues today. It's expected 450 to 500 people are affected.

An additional 100 evacuees will be moved to the community of Smooth Rock Falls. Plans are underway to find additional towns to take people.

No immediate threat

"There is no immediate threat to the community and an evacuation is a deliberate precautionary measure to ensure the safety of all residents," the town of Kapuskasing wrote in a news release Monday morning.

Evacuation flights will continue to arrive throughout the week until the most vulnerable residents are safely established in Kapuskasing, the release said.

Evacuees will be lodged at local motels, and meals and emergency supplies will be provided.

Members of Kashechewan First Nation land in the northern Ontario town of Kapuskasing, more than 300 kilometres south of their community. A total of eight planes landed on Sunday, with another six expected to land Monday. (Francis Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Evacuation occurs annually

The town of Kapuskasing has received evacuees from Kashechewan every spring for more than a decade. 

Kashechewan First Nation is on the Albany River's flood plain, making it susceptible to flooding every spring.

The annual interruptions are starting to wear on some community members, said Brandon Spence, Kashechewan's fire chief and emergency coordinator. 

"I wanted to go out hunting this spring," he said. "'I've been missing it a lot because I've been helping with these evacuations that are happening every year.

"I'm missing the traditional thing I love to do, [which] is hunt geese with my friends and family."

Sandra Wesley arrived Monday with her two grandchildren. She's been evacuated many times.

"Exhausted. Tired," she said. "Especially the babies."

Ron Wesley arrived at the Kapuskasing airport Sunday.

"[It's] kind of frustrating for everyone," Wesley said. "Especially the elders, and the kids are restless."

Already, 200 Kashechewan evacuees have been living in Kapuskasing for years, waiting to return to the First Nation once new homes are built. 

Each annual evacuation costs between $15 million and 20 million.

Evacuees are transported by bus to their accommodations in Kapuskasing. (Francis Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Relocation would cost up to $1B

The evacuation comes just weeks after a new framework agreement was signed between the First Nation and federal and provincial governments that said it would "include consideration" for options to relocate the flood-prone community to higher ground.

However, no financial commitment has been made.

Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday said moving the community 20 kilometres up the Albany River could cost between $500 million and $1 billion.

During a referendum held in 2016, 89 per cent of the First Nation voted in favour of relocation.

Aerial view of the Albany River on Monday. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

With files from Olivia Stefanovich, Radio-Canada