The threat of flooding has forced about 2,500 people to flee two remote northern Ontario aboriginal communities.
Residents of Attawapiskat and Kashechewan are seeking refuge in nine communities in Ontario and Quebec after leaders on the reserves declared emergencies.
The provincial government has co-ordinated the evacuations and airlifts through Emergency Management Ontario and the Office of the Fire Marshal. The federal government and several municipalities are also assisting, including Thunder Bay, Cornwall, Kirkland Lake and Val d’Or in Quebec. Attawapiskat and Kashechewan are located on the western shores of James Bay and are prone to flooding in the spring. The breakup of ice on the Albany River often causes ice jams to form, pushing water over the banks. In November, 2006, a report commissioned by the federal government recommended relocating Kashechewan. The First Nation rejected the recommendation, deciding to remain in its traditional territories and focus on improving flood-control measures.
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the Timmins-James Bay riding, told CTV News on the weekend that it might be time to consider relocating Attawapiskat to a less vulnerable location.
“There’s certainly a need for a longer, more involved conversation with the federal government and the province and the community,” Mr. Angus said. “We need to do something here to ensure the safety of people in the long term.”
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence could not be reached for comment Sunday evening.
Attawapiskat and the federal government have had tense relations over the past few years.
A housing crisis triggered a local state of emergency in 2011. In December, 2012, Ms. Spence travelled to Ottawa and staged a six-week hunger strike to protest living conditions on reserves and treaty issues. Her protest helped fuel the nationwide Idle No More movement.
The federal government has accused Attawapiskat of mismanaging finances. An audit of the band’s books, commissioned by Ottawa, found a lack of documentation and tracking for millions of dollars in payments between 2005 and 2011.