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Serious problems still face First Nations after wildfire season: Report

Aftermath of the Shovel Lake fire
Aftermath of the Shovel Lake fire

The repercussions of last summer’s Shovel Lake fire are still reverberating in the region.

The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation has released a new report, Trial by Fire: Nadleh Whut’en and the Shovel Lake Fire, 2018, chronicling what it sees as persistent problems with emergency management in British Columbia.

Last summer, the Shovel Lake Fire threatened the Nadleh Whut’en village on Nadleh Bunk’et (Fraser Lake). The village was evacuated. Nadleh Whut’en did lose three structures at a healing camp. But far more significant was the burning of 111,966 hectares of land from Shovel Lake and other fires last summer. That’s over 22 per cent of Nadleh’s traditional territory, according to the report.

Trial by Fire examines the many issues faced by Nadleh Whut’en during the emergency. There is no protocol for information sharing with First Nations governments, which meant Nadleh Whut’en received a notice to evacuate their healing camp a day after it had already burned, according to the report.

Better communication between fire crews and Indigneous communities was an issue highlighted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he visited Prince George at the height of last summer’s fire season.

According to theNadleh Whut’en report, there is also no protocol for funding emergency operations during an emergency. That has left Nadleh Whut’en in debt after being assured by Emergency Management British Columbia that costs would be reimbursed.

Access to funds from the provincial government for recovery after emergencies is almost impossible for First Nations and their members, according to the report. This has left many Nadleh members without food, since their fridges are ruined, or fuel to heat their homes since there is no firewood left to cut.

“Shovel Lake will not be the last fire we face,” said Chief Larry Nooski, in a news release. “With climate change, and the problems with modern forestry, forest fires are becoming more frequent and severe. But if we can act on the recommendations found in this report, we will be far better prepared to meet these challenges in the future.”

With the release of this report, the Chief and Council of Nadleh Whut’en hope to spur the Government of BC to implement protocols — through consultation with First Nations — to improve emergency management and guarantee funding for emergency operations and recovery once the emergency has passed.

Last month Victoria announced an additional $10 million in provincial funding to support communities in their recovery from the 2018 wildfire season.

These funds will be distributed through an agreement with the Canadian Red Cross.

This new funding is in addition to $3.1 million raised through eligible public and province-matched Red Cross donations, along with other public donations, to support communities impacted by the 2018 wildfire season.

“While the fires are now out, British Columbians can rest assured that government support will be sustained,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and the Solicitor General. “Our province is facing a long-term and complicated recovery process for the second year in a row, and the effects to communities and local economies that were impacted by the 2018 wildfire season have been significant. These funds will go a long way to helping wildfire victims get back on their feet.”

This funding will be used to carry out relief, recovery and resiliency efforts and activities for individuals and families affected by the 2018 wildfire season, including:

* debris removal on private land and repair and reconstruction related to uninsured damages caused by 2018 wildfires

* refrigerator and freezer disposal and replacement

* alternative heating source supplies (e.g. firewood)

* other operational costs such as labour, travel expenses and project equipment

* health and wellness supports

Assistance will be determined on a case-by-case basis and will not duplicate assistance provided through insurance, government or other agency programs. The priority for funding will continue to be individuals and families who are most vulnerable.

“Many parts of the province were heavily impacted by wildfires this past summer, and communities and businesses need our support as they re-establish their lives and livelihoods,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness. “Our government has been working diligently to ensure the immediate critical needs in impacted communities have been met and this additional funding can now help wildfire victims through the next stage of their recovery.”

As part of its ongoing assistance, the Canadian Red Cross will be providing additional support to assist with longer-term needs as individuals and communities continue in their recovery.

 

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