It is time for the federal and provincial governments to seriously deal with the annual flooding and evacuations of Kashechewan First Nation or Kash as we, the Cree people of the James Bay, refer to it. Kashechewan, which is Cree for ‘where the water flows fast’, sits on the banks of the Albany River and has been flooding for a very long time on an annual basis.
In the late 1950s the community was moved from islands in the Albany River onto what people hoped would be a safer area but in fact it was known as a floodplain. Although other First Nations on James Bay have to deal with flooding at times in the spring, Kash has always been ground zero when it comes to dealing with this terrible natural disaster on an annual basis. A few thousand people have to be evacuated every year to southern towns and cities while the flooding is active and they have to leave behind all of their homes and possessions in a hurry with so much worry as to what they will be returning to. That is just so unfair.
There have been promises made in the past by various governments to move the community and that commitment was signed on by the federal government and Ontario in 2017 to develop a plan to support the sustainability of the community. The idea is to move the community to a safer area but regretfully no plan has developed or time line to doing so. It is not as though it doesn’t make good financial sense to do something in terms of relocating Kash as soon as possible after all it costs about $20 million a year to provide the evacuation for community citizens. Shouldn’t this money be provided for a real answer to this flooding problem?
Chief Leo Friday of Kashechewan, Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde, Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathon Solomon, Member of Parliament Charlie Angus and Member of Provincial Parliament Gilles Bisson have all been lobbying and protesting to the federal Liberal government and the provincial Conservative government to move ahead urgently and find a solution. Recently the people of Kash joined with leadership to protest in Ottawa at the Parliament building and in Toronto at Queens Park to lobby the governments to get going with plans to make the relocation of Kash a reality as fast as possible. I was very proud of my young nephew Liam for joining the protest and doing his part to lobby both governments.
Can you imagine every year having to leave your home and head out to other communities while your home and your possessions could possibly be flooded? The worry about leaving everything you own, the stress in dealing with moving to unfamiliar and sometimes unfriendly southern communities and not knowing if you will return to a safe, permanent place to call home is just too much. This is a terrible reality for the people of Kash and something has to be done.
To his credit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing ahead with the relocation project and some advance is being made with the purchase of new land from the province of Ontario but there is a real urgency here and things have to happen more quickly and with a set time line so that people can look forward to a future where evacuations are a thing of the past.
The government of Canada is responsible for putting the people of Kash in a place where flooding has long since occurred. They forced these people off of their traditional territories on to reserve lands and in this case to an area that is a danger every year with flooding. If you heard of this happening in some third world country where governments don’t really care much about their people you might think, well that is how it is but here in one of the top first world countries, this should not be happening.
I am not one of the people who is so willing to blame everything on the current Liberal federal government and Justin Trudeau. I think he will honour the commitments made but I urge him to act quickly so that the people of Kash do not need to go through another evacuation ... let’s get a move on. These days the Liberal federal government is taking a lot of hits and much of the negative banter is coming from my own people. Let me remind you that since the Liberals have taken power from the Conservatives, First Nations have seen a complete turnaround in terms of funding for health, education, housing and on many other levels. No government is perfect but some are much worse in dealing with First Nations so we should all think about that fact before we shoot ourselves in the foot.