‘They’re get­ting sick’: Chief

In­dige­nous lead­ers call for state of emer­gency

StarMetro Toronto - - CANADA -

In­dige­nous lead­ers called on the Man­i­toba gov­ern­ment Thurs­day to de­clare a state of emer­gency and free up more ho­tel rooms for peo­ple who have fled north­ern for­est fires.

Chief Dino Flett of Gar­den Hill First Na­tion said evac­uees liv­ing in close quar­ters in emer­gency shel­ters in Win­nipeg — sleep­ing in rows of cots — have been get­ting sick while wait­ing for ho­tel space.

“I’m just try­ing to take care of my peo­ple and right now these shel­ters are not help­ing,” Flett said as he and oth­ers pre­pared for a protest march to the Man­i­toba leg­is­la­ture.

“There’s still chil­dren in the shel­ters and ... they’re catch­ing colds. They’re get­ting sick. They’re not get­ting any bet­ter.’’

More than 4,000 peo­ple were forced to leave their homes last week in three abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties — Gar­den Hill, Wasaga­mack and St. Theresa Point — when they were threat­ened by a large for­est fire 500 kilo­me­tres north of Win­nipeg. Al­most half of the evac­uees were put up ini­tially in two large shel­ters in­side a soc­cer fa­cil­ity and at the Win­nipeg Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

Flett said he could not re­call for­est fire evac­uees ever hav­ing to use a large shel­ter, be­cause there was al­ways avail­able ho­tel space.

The Cana­dian Red Cross, which is man­ag­ing the evac­u­a­tion ef­fort for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, said space in Win­nipeg ho­tels was tight be­cause of the sum­mer tourist sea­son and an ear­lier evac­u­a­tion of 800 peo­ple from the Poplar River First Na­tion. But ho­tel rooms are be­com­ing avail­able and evac­uees — pri­mar­ily the el­derly, the sick and peo­ple with young chil­dren — have been moved.

By Thurs­day, the con­ven­tion cen­tre shel­ter had closed and about 300 peo­ple re­mained at the soc­cer fa­cil­ity.

Judy Klassen, a Lib­eral leg­is­la­ture mem­ber who rep­re­sents the evac­u­a­tion area, also called on the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment to de­clare a state of emer­gency that would in­duce ho­tels to free up more rooms.

Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter said it is up to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, which has re­spon­si­bil­ity for First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties, to make the dec­la­ra­tion.

He said all peo­ple in­volved in the res­cue ef­fort have been do­ing the best they can.

“Frankly, all the re­sources that we can put to use ... are be­ing de­ployed,” Pal­lis­ter said.

“It’s a de­plorable sit­u­a­tion and we’re do­ing our very best. And I ap­plaud the peo­ple who are do­ing all they can, and the agen­cies and the vol­un­teers that are work­ing to ... ad­dress the needs of the peo­ple who are be­ing dis­placed.”

CouR­TesY juDY KLAssen

Man­i­toba MlA Judy Klassen pro­vided this im­age show­ing the evac­u­a­tion of Wasaga­mack first Na­tion in north­ern Man­i­toba.

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