Manitoba flood evacuees want Red Cross to take over

By Melissa Ridgen
APTN National News
Many of the 2,000 evacuees still displaced by the 2011 Manitoba flood are alarmed because the Red Cross has not taken over evacuee services from the embattled Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters, as was announced by the federal government earlier this month.

“MANFF continues to handle the evacuee file even though Red Cross was supposed to take over. Apparently it’s not happening,” one evacuee told APTN National News.

On June 3, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt announced MANFF would be stripped of flood evacuee duties. The firefighters’ group is currently the subject of a management review as news reports about questionable spending are circulated.

“Their capacity to deliver long-term recovery services and support for evacuees is limited,” the minister said. “This is something MANFF has indicated in discussions with my department.”

He said Aboriginal Affairs would work with MANFF on a transition plan along with the affected communities of Little Saskatchewan, Lake St. Martin and Dauphin River First Nations and that the Canadian Red Cross would also be involved.

Bertha Travers is an evacuee from Little Saskatchewan who has bounced from hotel to hotel since the Manitoba government flooded the Interlake area to spare Winnipeg from a flood in the spring of 2011. She was initially buoyed by Valcourt’s announcement but wonders why MANFF is still on evacuee duty three weeks later.

“We’re being treated like shit by MANFF,” she said from the Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli, M.B. “Everyone is wondering what’s happening with the Red Cross. We’re verbally abused and MANFF staff has taken advantage of evacuees.”

When contacted by telephone, MANFF spokesman Jimmy Mac declined to comments on Travers’ allegations of abuse.

In a statement made after Valcourt’s June 3 announcement, MANFF said it “welcomes the transition, from its organization to the Canadian Red Cross, of services relating to the 2011 flood evacuation and as part of this process, MANFF is committed to ensuring a smooth changeover.”

Red Cross spokeswoman Heidi Pfeiffer said a team was assembled this week and is posed to begin work.

“The first step is to reach out to the communities, in this case the chiefs, and we’ll work to determine the longer-term needs of each,” Pfeiffer said. “When we’re done our assessment we take it to (AANDC) and they decide what to do with our recommendations.”

She expects the Red Cross report will be ready for Aboriginal Affairs by mid-July.

The trouble with all of this, Travers said, is that MANFF remains in charge and no one is bothering to ask evacuees what’s needed.

“They’re going to ask chief and council what we need? How would they know? They’ve abandoned us too. They don’t know what we’re going through. They don’t come here to see us. It is still a crisis we’re in. We’re homeless and some people are still couch-surfing two years later. The Red Cross should come to evacuees to ask what’s needed.”

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