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Report: Lack of Communication Big Issue Hurting Indigenous People During Wildfire

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Report: Lack of Communication Big Issue Hurting Indigenous People During Wildfire

Cloud of smoke from wildfire near Horse River on May 1, 2016

More needs to be done to protect and better prepare Indigenous groups for future disasters.

That’s according to a new report done by Willow Springs Strategic Solutions released on Tuesday which outlined, in better details, the impacts the wildfire had on the Indigenous peoples.

It concluded there was a lack of federal leadership, too many capacity constraints, and a lack of inclusion.

Speaking on Fort McMurray Matters, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Allan Adam says there was also a lack of communication.

“The disaster that was left behind was that there was no communication, whatsoever, even with the closest community outside of Fort McMurray and that is a very alarming concern for First Nations because if we’re not being contacted properly what’s the plan of action when another disaster comes.”

Adam who’s also the president of the Athabasca Tribal Council which overlooks the region’s five First Nations.

At the time of the wildfire, there were 132 members in the Fort McMurray area.

“When I got home to the community of Fort Chipewyan and started to phone the RMWB and ask questions, I was turned away abruptly and pretty much the door was closed in my face.”

CEO of the McMurray Métis Bill Loutitt believes there needs to be a communication plan in place.

This would include a list of Indigenous groups to contact immediately and ways to help breakdown language barriers.

“Everybody gets contacted, you’re able to get communication out to your membership and there’s got to be help too, a lot of the First Nations and Métis still speak their languages and they have trouble when they’re going into a situation when the person on the other side of the table… not understanding the people at all.”

The lack of communication also didn’t stop after the evacuation.

Loutitt notes many people didn’t know about the supports that were being provided.

“That help was there available for them and other people who using it, but they sat back and until they could come to, feel comfortable, and talk to an Aboriginal across the table – that’s where they were helped.”

As mentioned before, little federal leadership also became a real problem for Indigenous communities.

Owner of WSSS Tim Clark adds the Indigenous communities were unfortunately the victim of confusion between the different levels of government.

“You had things like the RMWB saying ‘no-no First Nations can’t be a part of this because you guys deal with the feds’ – one of the big things is really clarifying exactly what the roles and responsibilities are.”

Moving forward, the hope is to have an emergency plan that has Indigenous leaders ‘sitting at the table’ so they’re included and prepared for any future disaster.

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