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Federal support coming for Indigenous communities ahead of wildfire season


Alberta First Nations are receiving help from Ottawa ahead of the looming wildfire season, but one First Nation is worried it might not be what's needed.

The chief of the Little Red River Cree nation in northeastern Alberta says he's uneasy ahead of this year's wildfire season.

The nation is made up of three communities, including Fox Lake, which saw nearly 4,000 people evacuated last May as an enormous wildfire closed in.

"It's hard to sleep at night when I have to think about those things," Conroy Sewepagaham said.

"Sometimes I wish I could forget it, and I think that goes for the majority of our community members."

Last year was record breaking for wildfires in Canada with fears this year could be the same.

This year, there will be more help from Ottawa.

All 48 First Nations in Alberta will receive an emergency management coordinator.

"A full time coordinator or a part time coordinator has the role of supporting that community to do that pre-planning and to have those emergency plans in place, both from the protection of infrastructure and the protection of life," said Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu.

Sewepagaham says they'll take the support, but adds what his community really needs is infrastructure support.

"Fire trucks, for that matter even having adequate water infrastructure to hook up our pumps and fight our fires in our community, because we don't have local fire hydrants installed."

Fox Lake itself is only accessible by boat, and the chief says the highway that stretches past it and the other two communities is one of Alberta's longest unpaved roads.

"We have to deal with the dust. Sometimes, on a good day, you can only see 15 feet ahead of you, and that's always my biggest worry as well, if we do another evacuation."

He doesn't just want to add new infrastructure, he wants to replace what has been lost.

More than 200 homes and other structures burned in Fox Lake last year, and Sewepagaham says the rebuild is a struggle because they don't have what they need to get the job done. 

In response to the federal announcement, the provincial ministry of Indigenous relations sent the following statement:

"Alberta is the only province to have a legislated land-base for Métis people. Alberta’s government is committing a total of $1 million so that each of the Métis Settlements in Alberta can hire a dedicated Director of Emergency Management. These new staff members will help them find ways to reduce the risks of natural disasters." Top Stories

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