Federal support of First Nations ahead of fire season not enough says chief in B.C.

Ottawa warned province and territories that upcoming fire season could be the most severe one yet.

The warnings have been coming slowly over the past few weeks about what lies ahead in this year’s wildfire season. In Alberta, the province declared the season open weeks ahead of schedule – and in B.C., fires have been burning throughout the winter.

“There are approximately ninety fires in the middle of winter,” said Terry Teegee, regional chief the Assembly of First Nations in British Columbia. “These fires, known as zombie fires, are just under the ground. If we don’t get enough snow pack, which we don’t have right at this time, we can expect another early fire season.”

On Feb. 21, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said this year’s wildfires could be even worse than last year.

“We were warned that we need to be prepared for the worst,” Sajjan said, “early reporting suggests that this year’s wildfire season could be worse than the last.”

Teegee said he’s worried but not surprised by the minister’s caution. He told Nation to Nation host, Annette Francis, that last year’s wild fire season was the worst in terms of the amount of area that burned, but over the last 20 years, they’ve seen many fires.

According to Teegee, many of the of the 204 First Nations in B.C. are located in forested areas – and there’s already signs of a severe fire season.

Just six months ago the Assembly of First Nations called for an immediate increase in support for communities and individuals affected by the wild fires. Teegee said that support was not enough to deal with the many issues they’re experiencing.

“It’s really important to have enough resources out there to deal with the issue of climate change and also reduce the fuel load around First Nation communities, so we don’t get these category five and six fires.”

He noted that a category five fire means nothing can be done to save buildings and property and the best thing to do is get out of its way.

Building fires continue to ravage remote First Nations

A fire last weekend at the Cat Lake Frist Nation in northern Ontario destroyed the Margaret Gray Nursing Station, resulting in a state of crisis being declared by Chief Russell Wesley. Efforts to save the health care facility depleted Cat Lake’s water reservoir leaving the First Nation under a boil water advisory.

Sol Mamakwa, the Ontario NDP MPP for the area, said he’s been calling for a fire safety and prevention strategy in the north.

“It has to come with resources, not just words, not just condolences. Those are not good enough anymore because all these fires are taking lives,” he told Francis.

Mamakwa said what’s missing is the political will to invest in the infrastructure that’s needed.

“I’ve learned that’s how colonialism works, that’s how oppression works, because we’re not supposed to rise as people, we’re not supposed to stand as a nation.”

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu has promised modular buildings will be shipped to Cat Lake, while winter roads are still frozen, to act as a temporary health centre. She also said her department is working on a long-term plan to rebuild the nursing station.

Meeting in Regina on unmarked graves

As well, Nation to Nation spoke to Kisha Supernant. She is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.

It held a knowledge sharing event in Regina this week.  It’s the first of a few events like this that will take place in different areas of the country.

Supernant said the focus of the committee meeting is to share information.

“There are many aspects to this work, there has been a lot of focus on ground, searches and ground penetrating radar, but there are many other types of information that can support communities, families and survivors.”

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