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At a time when precautionary evacuations would begin for Kashechewan residents, many of those on the First Nation are heading out to their hunting camps or seeking out higher ground within their traditional territory.
“There are two or three helicopters involved and the Red Cross are doing a lot of on-the-ground organization,” MP Charlie Angus (NDP — Timmins-James Bay). “I think there are maybe 600 on the land now and so they have supplies, they have tents, and they have what they need to be on the land for a period of time.”
“There is still another 800 people who are not leaving the community or who are either essential workers or the elderly and the infirm.”
He said there is a plan to move about 1,000 to 1,200 to move out onto the territory.
“Our big concern was that people had enough resources to actually survive out there. So the feds and the province are working together with the Red Cross to make sure people have what they need. I believe there are nurses in the community in case there is someone who has to be flown out for evacuation if there is a medical emergency while someone is out on the land.
“So are a number of contingency measures that are in place.”
Asked about food, Angus replied, “I believe they have the supplies they need to survive the two weeks or however long it takes, plus it is the spring hunt so people are doing traditional harvesting as well.”
Annually every spring, just as waters begin rising on the Albany River, Kashechewan residents are evacuated and provided places to stay in communities like Timmins and Kapuskasing.
However, the spread of COVID-19 in urban centres away from the First Nation communities along the James Bay Coast has made that option less viable.
“The big question is what’s our back-up plan if we have to do an emergency evacuation at the last minute?” Angus said. “If the waters rise quickly and we have to ship people out, where are they going to go?
“That’s still seems to be a work in progress. The community is obviously very wary about moving into an urban location and we have urban locations like Timmins, Kapuskasing and Thunder Bay concerned because they are already stretched with COVID, so we need a back-up plan.”
Angus said those details are still being ironed out.
“I’m hoping we can get a confirmation from government fairly soon on a back-up location if necessary.”
At one point, there was discussion of the government possibly helping to facilitate the preparation of Site 5 which is an area of land about 30 kilometres away from the flood plain where Kashechewan is currently located. It is also the site where the community is supposed to eventually relocate according to an agreement the First Nation reached with the federal government in 2017.
Angus said that idea never materialized.
“I believe some are at Site 5 while others are just out in their traditional hunting territory, spread out on the land to just waiting this out.”