Kash residents, MPP becoming frustrated by need for evacuations
The Northern Ontario reserve of Kaschechewan is seen in this undated handout aerial photo. An evacuation due to flooding fears is underway at a remote First Nation community in northern Ontario. Area MP Charlie Angus says 325 people from Kashechewan First Nation flew to Kapuskasing, Ont., on Sunday and another 200 are expected to leave the community Monday as ice breaks up north of the community along the Albany River.
Residents of Kashechewan First Nation are again being evacuated to due a flood risk and residents are becoming frustrated by the nearly annual occurrence.
The community, which sits on a floodplain on the Albany River, is at risk of flooding due to a buildup of ice.
MPP Gilles Bisson (NDP — Timmins-James Bay), said the situation can worsen quickly.
“Sometimes what happens, the ice will bunch itself up and create a sort of ice dam. Water builds up behind it,” explained Bisson. “If that happens and the water releases, it’s a lot of water coming down that river very fast and it does a lot of damage as we’ve seen in the past.”
The First Nation’s Chief, Leo Friday, requested a precautionary evacuation, which saw eight planes take off with about 300 people on Sunday.
“This is to make sure we don’t get caught in a situation where, OK, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, then all of a sudden, everything starts to go wrong and they’re trying to evacuate people and find planes at the last minute,” said Bisson. “If that happens, it’s quite dangerous for the people there.”
The community is evacuated regularly due to spring flooding.
In late March, a historic agreement was signed by the governments of Ontario, Canada and Kashechewan, which brings the First Nation one step closer to relocation.
This evacuation compounds the need for that move, said Bisson.
“I think it proves the point that this should have been done years ago,” he said, noting that the amount spent by provincial and federal governments in evacuating, temporarily housing and fixing damaged infrastructure would have been better spent moving Kashechewan years ago.
“The quicker we’re able to move this community, not only is it better for the community as far as safety and not having to live behind a dyke, and what all of that entails, but it’s also a question of dollars and cents. In the longer run, the Canadian and Ontario governments will save money.”
Hosea Wesley, deputy chief for Kashechewan, said residents are fed up.
“They’re really tired of this evacuation, displacement. It really gets to them,” said Wesley. “They don’t really want to go out. They’d rather stay in their house and their own bed.”
Both men said more than 100 people are still living in Kapuskasing after a flood two years ago. Wesley said duplexes are in construction for those families.
Wesley also said a new site is being assessed about 30 kilometres upriver from the current community’s location. He said the site is on higher ground and doesn’t flood.
Bisson said the federal and provincial governments made the wrong call when they decided to build the First Nation in the floodplain.
“The local people said, don’t build it there. The federal and provincial governments didn’t listen, and we’re continually having to rebuild houses and infrastructure in that community ever since it (was) built 60 years ago.”
But a potential move is years away. By Monday evening, Wesley expected about 900 people to have been evacuated — mostly Elders, young children, pregnant women and the ill. Residents would be sent to Kapuskasing, then to Smooth Rock and Hearst.
The cost of evacuation is initially paid by the Government of Ontario, to be partially refunded by the federal government after the fact.
Neither Bisson nor Wesley was sure of when residents could return.
Bisson is frustrated by the near-annual evacuation.
“It’s frustrating for them, let alone me,” said the MPP. “Imagine if you couldn’t live in your community, you couldn’t live in your home, you couldn’t be with your family — it’s as frustrating as it gets.
“When I was up there last, two or three weeks ago, I talked to community members who had just returned and were very happy to be back. They don’t want to live in Kapuskasing, they want to live home. It’s a very frustrating thing for them to go through.”
Wesley, for his part, said the evacuation was going smoothly and he appreciated the support from social media users across the country.