Forest fire season came late to the region in 2017 and brought serious and large fires close to Northern communities, forcing thousands of evacuees into Prince Albert.
Red Cross and the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) took many of those evacuees into their care. Today the two organizations signed a collaboration agreement to formalize the parnership to better prepare northern communities for evacuations and disasters.
“We have been doing a lot of this work already, it is just a time to formalize our partnership to work better together,” Cindy Fuchs, Vice President of Canadian Red Cross in Saskatchewan said. “Much of that is helping communities be better prepared and helping themselves.”
Part of the agreement, Fuchs said, will involve increasing the number of Red Cross volunteers in the North and having more community members trained to assist each other in their own communities. While the number of trained Red Cross members in the North is low, Fuchs said there has been extensive progress made over the past decade. She said having community members help register each other when evacuation orders are given or even assisting in not evacuating the entire community are crucial roles trained personnel can play.
“Maybe they can actually stay in their own communities and just make sure that the health concerns are looked after,” Fuchs said. “We can train local communities to look after their own people, even in a small disaster like a house fire. Those local volunteers can help the family get back on their feet.”
Alongside this, Fuchs said the cultural experience and health knowledge within the PAGC are other critical tools the Red Cross can lean on to ease the stress on evacuees. She said the PAGC can aid in keeping residents close to home and normalizing their time away.
"All of those things we have been working with PAGC and communities,” she added. “People that are evacuated are already in crisis and it is really hard on them we want to make it is as easy as possible and this is one way to do it.”
Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said collaboration, learning and understanding First Nation culture and hearing what local leaders and communities have to say in regard to emergency management will better help each organization work towards a common goal; proving the best support to those impacted by emergencies. After the events on the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, in Pelican Narrows and Sandy Bay this summer, Hardlotte said, “the Chiefs thought it would only make sense to better work together.”
“We can’t work separately. If we want to help our communities as a people, it has to be a good working relationship. The Chiefs truly believe that and that is the way to go,” he said.
While noting many northern communities tend to have emergency response plans in place — be it for suicides, fires or evacuations — the Red Cross needs to be involved.
“This is what the Red Cross does, and with the Prince Albert Grand Council being there, it will make their work better with the local leadership and with the people who have been evacuated,” he said.
An agreement of this nature was a first for the Grand Council and a critical document according to Hardlotte. He made note how many Elders, when forced to evacuate, can endure flashbacks and trauma from their time in residential school.
“You are put in buses and taken away from your community. It is stressful in that way also,” he added.
Seeing the Red Cross acknowledge communities are best when they care for each other was another positive aspect for Hardlotte. He said historically, PAGC communities have always responded to crisis situations by coming together.
“The governments have provided their resources to be able to do risk assessment but it only makes the community stronger when you do capacity building,” he added. “It can be a natural disaster or social challenges in the community.”
The Red Cross will make another appearance at an upcoming Chiefs meeting to further outline what the agreement means and what it can do to help when it comes to evacuations.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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