The chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band is petitioning Ottawa for better funding policy and First Nation involvement for on-reserve emergency management.
Chief Tammy Cook-Searson spoke to a standing committee from Indigenous and Northern Affairs earlier this week in the nation’s capital on “Fire Safety and Emergency Management in Indigenous Communities.”
She spoke about the wildfires of 2015. The fires saw the largest ever evacuation in Saskatchewan history, with approximately 15,000 people being displaced from their homes.
“It was an incredibly trying and difficult time,” she told the committee.
During her presentation, Chief Cook-Searson laid out concerns and recommendations that arose during the response and evacuation to the wildfires. She asked for a change in funding policies, for more First Nation involvement in emergency response operations and asked for clarification of provincial roles and responsibilities in emergency response as it relates to First Nation communities.
“Unlike urban and rural municipalities, who leverage land tax revenues to support emergency response activities, (First Nations) rely on INAC funding through federal funding programs and services,” she explained. “In most cases, our communities don’t have the capacity to cover interim expenses related to emergency planning and response, and we are unclear as to how or how quickly funds can be accessed from the federal government.”
Chief Cook-Searson says the LLRIB spent $800,000 of its own money in the emergency response efforts in 2015 before being reimbursed nearly a year later.
Throughout the 2015 fire season, Cook-Searson questioned why First Nation firefighters from northern Saskatchewan were evacuated instead of being allowed to stay and help fight the fires. She brought this up during the committee meeting and also questioned why other First Nation communities who offered help in the efforts were denied.
“As a result of the overload of the situation on the Red Cross, we failed to understand why the offer for help for accommodations from other First Nations was denied,” she said. “There were no government policies that described what the requirements were for a community to be approved as a host community, so what needs to be done for that to change?”
Chief Cook-Searson’s report has now been put on the public record and will be a resource for policy makers in the future.