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THE 2011 MANITOBA FLOODS: A LASTING CALAMITY FOR FIRST NATIONS
By Wayne Saunders
The Manitoba floods of 2011 took a disastrous toll on First Nations communities in the province's Interlake Region. With thousands of people evacuated, eighteen First Nations communities were affected and several remain heavily impacted.
According to a web page from Canada's Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) entitled Fact Sheet - 2011 Manitoba Flood Evacuees: Update, "Some 1,300 residents have returned to their home communities."
Meanwhile, recovery efforts, reconstruction, infrastructure development and negotiations amongst the Government of Canada, the Province of Manitoba and various First Nations for final settlement packages are ongoing.
The INAC update notes that "…as of March 14, 2017, 2,041 people from the most affected First Nations communities remain evacuated as recovery efforts continue. More than 1,900 come from the four Lake St. Martin area First Nations: Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River and Pinaymootang."
With so many people still displaced, the impact of the disaster continues to be felt throughout the region.
According to the INAC fact sheet:
"The negotiations will aim to reach final settlement packages that include flood mitigation measures, replacement lands from the province, compensation for damages, and infrastructure and housing to rebuild First Nation communities, and ultimately aim to return the remaining flood evacuees to their home communities."
Nonetheless - given the lengthy time period taken to fully address and resolve the situation - frustration runs high among some First Nations communities, especially since the transitional change to a new provincial government in 2016. In an email to this reporter, Karl Zadnik, Chief Executive Officer of the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council stated:
"The provincial and federal governments have been using the recent election and changes in government to their advantage. It took three months to finally have a meeting with the Provincial PC government's Minister of Indigenous Relations. This is unacceptable, almost like the Provincial and Federal governments are playing Russian roulette with our communities and our people. The blame game continues on."
Zadnik also noted that the impact on First Nations communities extends well beyond physical displacement:
"The floods continue to affect Interlake communities in the form of suicides, mental health, disconnection to culture, drug usage with relocation to urban centres, land and community use and pride. Having a place you can call home is not present. Depression and anxiety, displacement of our peoples is the root cause of this all because of the Provincial created man-made flood to save the City of Winnipeg and Brandon."
Furthermore, with climate change now a constant variable, the need to mitigate against similar future calamities is paramount.
In an email to this reporter, Danny Blair, Acting Dean of Science at the University of Winnipeg, and Director of Science for its Prairie Climate Centre said, "It is impossible to attribute any single extreme event to climate change. Nevertheless, the remarkably wet weather in late 2010 and early 2011 that resulted in massive flooding in Manitoba is a perfect example of the kind of climate volatility that is expected to occur more often with climate change."
The INAC update notes that "Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada invested more than $80 million to protect Manitoba First Nations from the flood of 2011. This included approximately $44 million to construct permanent dikes. An additional $10.9 million was invested after the 2011 flood to make temporary dikes permanent at 11 Manitoba First Nations: Sioux Valley, Opaskwayak, Canupawakpa, Sandy Bay, Ebb and Flow, Lake Manitoba, O Chi Chak Ko Sipi, Little Saskatchewan, Poplar River, Berens River and Kinonjeoshtegon."
Blair continued, "Falls and springs are expected to get wetter in the region, and an already variable climate is expected to become even more so. Thus, it is imperative that we anticipate more frequent events of this type in the coming decades, and invest in policies and infrastructure that will minimize our exposure to catastrophic losses."