First Nations, rural residents say the storm permanently changed the country

“For our grandchildren and their children, now the devastation has left them nothing”: Shackan First Nation Chief Arnold Lampreau.

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Chief Arnold Lampreau expects his house to be a total loss, but the devastation goes far beyond that and extends hundreds of years into the future.

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Last week’s storm did not just flood the Shackan First Nations reserve in BC’s Nicola Valley, said Lampreau, the changing landscape.

“It moved rivers and moved hills and filled valleys and then created new valleys … That’s the size of that storm,” said the elected chief of Shackan First Nation. “The land that our ancestors had worked for thousands of years and ensured that we had a place to cultivate … productive crops, those lands are no longer there. They are just stones.”

Images showing damage in and around the Shackan First Nation Reserve in BC's Nicola Valley following the storms and floods of November 2021.
Images showing damage in and around the Shackan First Nation Reserve in BC’s Nicola Valley following the storms and floods of November 2021. Photo by Keith Fransson / Urban Systems / Shackan First Nation /PNG

Roads and bridges connecting the Shackan Reserve with the rest of the province have been washed away completely, and Lampreau predicts that it may take years before infrastructure is rebuilt so that the reserve’s residents can return. And once they can return home, they fear that they will return to another place.

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This summer’s forest fires had already ravaged fish-bearing water and forest areas where the Shackan people were picking berries and medicinal plants, Lampreau said. This month’s storm has now devastated land where they raised animals and cultivated crops.

Chief Arnold Lampreau oversees First Nation employee Lenore Starr (left) while National Councilor Yvonne Joe is on the phone.
Chief Arnold Lampreau oversees First Nation employee Lenore Starr (left) while National Councilor Yvonne Joe is on the phone. Photo by Allen Douglas /PNG

“Our grandfather used from the morning until the last light of day to work in his fields in preparation for a day when children and grandchildren should take over.… But when we look forward to our grandchildren and their children, now the devastation has left them nothing, Said Lampreau. “We have nowhere to go.”

The Shackan Reserve has been completely evacuated, with some community members living with friends and family in nearby towns, Lampreau said, while others are in hotels and labor camps. Some have slept in their cars. Displaced residents of Shackan and other communities along Highway 8, between Spences Bridge and Merritt, say it is difficult to understand the extent of the wilderness.

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But the Shackan nation is not unique – other remote indigenous communities and rural residents in the area also have suffered massive losses that go beyond repairing buildings and infrastructure. A local official says many will never return home.

Images showing damage in and around the Shackan First Nation Reserve in BC's Nicola Valley following the storms and floods of November 2021.
Images showing damage in and around the Shackan First Nation Reserve in BC’s Nicola Valley following the storms and floods of November 2021. Photo by Keith Fransson / Urban Systems / Shackan First Nation /PNG

“I’ve been on Zoom calls for the last three or four days, listening to stories straight from chiefs of communities that have been destroyed,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “It’s all over.”

“This can not be affected by traditional notions of a one-time weather event where we simply make superficial repairs to the transport infrastructure and then expect things to be OK. The devastation will have very serious long-term detrimental effects on the country itself.”

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That World Meteorological Organization has linked climate change to increases in extreme weather events in recent decades, and Phillip says what has happened this month in remote communities like Shackan as well as more populated areas like Abbotsford should be a warning to all Canadians, both indigenous and non- natives.

“We all need to know and understand that the wolf is literally on our doorstep with the climate crisis. The country is talking to us and we need to listen, especially the government and the industry. These disasters will intensify and continue to wreak havoc in all communities. “

NICOLA VALLEY, BC: Images showing damage in and around the Shackan First Nation Reserve in BC's Nicola Valley following the November 2021 storms and floods.
NICOLA VALLEY, BC: Images showing damage in and around the Shackan First Nation Reserve in BC’s Nicola Valley following the November 2021 storms and floods. Photo by Keith Fransson / Urban Systems / Shackan First Nation /PNG

Steven Rice, who evacuated his farm outside Spences Bridge last week, agreed.

“Climate change comes with an emphatic statement,” said Rice, director of the Thomson Nicola Regional District. “Wildfires, floods used to be the exception, they are now the rule.”

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Rice compared last week’s accident to “an episode of The Twilight Zone.”

“I have seen drone footage.… Many people will never return home, the river has swallowed their home… There will be no reconstruction,” Rice said. “It is beyond one’s imagination.”

The head of Cook’s Ferry First Nation, Christine Minnabarriet, said it would be difficult for her community, consisting of “26 small reserves sprinkled along the Thompson River,” to recover.

“We’re in an economically bad area,” Minnabarriet said. “We have not set up a bank account for emergencies like this.”

The chief said her people, historically, “have been put on these tiny pieces of land,” which were considered “inappropriate or acceptable” by settlers who took better pieces of land. “And then things come in like storms, whether it’s fire or flood, and we’re hit first, and we can not live off that land.”

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Society has worked hard to become more self-sufficient, Minnabarriet said, and band members have worked hard to make the land productive. Now much of the land is no longer there, she said. It has literally flown away down the river.

“It’s just intensified destruction over the many decades and centuries,” she said. “We can not move on … The blanket is being pulled out from under you.”

First Nations executives held a conference call Tuesday to discuss the situation with BC’s Indigenous Relations Ministers, Murray Rankin, and public safety Mike Farnworth.

At a media briefing on Wednesday, Rankin said he heard original leaders’ concerns about the call, and he “heard we have more work to do,” including improving emergency support and communication with First Nations, some of whom have said they never have received an evacuation alarm from the province.

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Rankin said his government has assembled “integrated native response and recovery implementation teams,” including staff from federal and provincial agencies, “who will better support First Nation communities with little or no access.”

Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the BC Assembly of First Nations said he was on Tuesday’s call with cabinet ministers trying to impress upon them that if this month’s catastrophe is truly unprecedented, as Farnworth has described it, “then we should do things without precedent. ready ”for next time.

Some leaders question provincial officials’ description of last week as a “once in a century storm.”

The Minnabarriet worries about the spring flood that comes when the snow melts. But even before she can handle it, she said, “We’re looking at more rain this week. It’s coming.”

with files from Lisa Cordasco

dfumano@postmedia.com

twitter.com/fumano

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