The troubled northern Ontario Cree community of Kashechewan is dealing with uncertainty once again as several hundred residents had to be evacuated April 25 due to imminent flooding.
Rapidly rising waters caused by the break-up of the ice cover on the Albany River is expected to continue to threaten the community and neighboring Fort Albany well into the spring.
Officials from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources are working with the bands and Emergency Management Ontario to ensure the safety of those at risk, which include the sick, the elderly and small children.
Roughly 600 people were flown to places like Cochrane and Sault Ste. Marie.
“Our first priority is the safety of the people of Kashechewan and other James Bay communities,” said Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Rick Bartolucci.
There is a fear that the increasing water levels could threaten the integrity of the dike that surrounds Kashechewan. If so, emergency plans are being worked on to evacuate the entire community for the fourth time in as many years.
Chief Jonathan Solomon could not be reached for comment.
Severe weather April 25 forced the evacuations to take place over a couple of days as choppers could not reach 47 people who were finally flown out a day later.
Kashechewan has already dealt with numerous life-altering experiences including the closing of their only school for many months, an E.coli scare, mould that has affected a large number of houses and the annual flooding of the community. They also deal with the constant fear that the dike will become unstable or overflow.
After a boil-water advisory that lasted for years, residents continue to complain of scabies, chronic diarrhea, fevers and headaches and blame it on the poor quality of their water supply.
Alan Pope, a former Ontario provincial politician, presented 51 recommendations to Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice and the chief of Kashechewan on November 9, 2006.
In the report, he recommended that the community move next to Timmins, Ontario but also stressed that it retain the rights to its old community for traditional pursuits like hunting and fishing.
“The benefits of such a re-location are clear,” said Pope in a statement. “This will offer the greatest advantage of improved economic and individual opportunities to the members of the Kashechewan First Nation.
“I recommended the relocation because of the benefits it gives to the community of Kashechewan,” he said.
Pope was appointed in the summer of 2006 as a special federal representative to make proposals for the benefit of the community.
In a referendum last year, Kashechewan residents decided to ignore the recommendations made in the Pope report and to rebuild the community of 1900 a few kilometres from their current location downstream from the local sewer plant.
The Conservative government had the final word, however, and they decided to go with a $200 million solution to re-build the crumbling town in the same location and to reinforce the dike.
The community signed the deal last year, but things have been slow moving to repair the infrastructure.
It is expected to take 5-10 years to lessen the burden the housing shortage has caused within the community as well as to fix poorly constructed houses and to address other emergency concerns.
Suicide rates have also skyrocketed as the youth see a bleak future ahead of them under the current situation.
The flooding has also affected Fort Albany as over 330 residents were airlifted to Kapuskasing and other areas across northeastern Ontario April 28. Around 300 more residents were taken to Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay the following day.