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Indigenous Services Canada needs to work with First Nations to better prepare for wildfires: audit


While several Indigenous communities in Alberta start to return, rebuild and recover from devastating wildfires, a Métis fire researcher says Indigenous communities feel the effects sooner and longer.

Amy Cardinal Christianson says it's not an easy process for Indigenous communities to be uprooted from their homes and traditional lands, oftentimes more than once.

"Forty-two per cent of the wildfire evacuation events that we have in Canada are solely impacting Indigenous communities," the Parks Canada researcher said.

"There's a lot of cultural reliance on the land that other communities don't have and so it can become very difficult, even to evacuate, like many are in isolated areas."

Her findings are reflected in an audit conducted by Indigenous Services Canada, which found that over the last 13 years, First Nations communities experienced more than 1,300 emergencies.

Those led to more than 580 evacuations impacting more than 130,000 people.

Cardinal Christianson pointed out that many Indigenous communities live in rural and remote areas.

"Like you can't just jump in your car and drive away from any of them, right? They're reliant on outside help like aircraft or other means of transportation," she explained.

Cardinal Christianson says when Indigenous populations return home, the damage that's left behind goes beyond losing a home.

"For them when you lose that culture, you almost lose a sense of community and connection to that landscape and so it's really devastating for communities that way," she said.

"Indigenous Services Canada spent 3.5 times more on responding to emergencies than on supporting First Nations communities to prepare for them."

Cardinal Christianson says Indigenous communities want to help manage the fires in their areas.

"We know with Indigenous knowledge about fire that communities hold substantial knowledge about reducing their wildfire risk," she said.

The audit concluded Indigenous Services Canada should work with First Nations to implement program planning and decide on how to prepare communities most at risk for emergencies. Top Stories

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