Dozens of First Nations reserves remain evacuated, on alert due to B.C. wildfires
September 5, 2023
By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As of Sept. 1, 35 reserves on eight First Nations in British Columbia remain on evacuation order due to out-of-control wildfires in the province’s interior and north.
Adams Lake Indian Band, located east of Kamloops, has three reserves on evacuation order, including one that was issued a month ago.
Residents of the Cstèlen (Hustalen) reserve were ordered to evacuate on Aug. 2, due to the East Adams Lake wildfire.
The Toops reserve was evacuated on Aug. 18 and Stequmwhulpa residents were ordered to leave the following day, both due to the Bush Creek East wildfire.
Sahhaltkum reserve residents were also evacuated on Aug. 18, but were permitted to return on Aug 25. They remain on evacuation alert. Squaam reserve residents have been on alert since Aug. 7, but weren’t evacuated.
Sheri Lysons, who has 20 years experience as a volunteer firefighter, defied evacuation orders to assist with firefighting after relocating her daughter to Salmon Arm, located less than 100 km south of Adams Lake.
“We’re going to fight as long as we can and then if we can’t, then we’ll leave,” Lysons told CBC News.
Elder Ronie Jules and his wife also stayed back to protect his home with a sprinkler, as they did successfully during a 2003 wildfire that threatened the community.
“We know if the house ever burned down, we’re never going to get a new house,” he told the CBC.
Lytton First Nation, located southwest of Kamloops near the intersection of the Fraser and Thompson rivers, has 17 reserves still on evacuation order.
Band leadership ordered the evacuation of the Yawaucht, Tsaukan, Cameron Bar and Lytton 13A reserves on Aug. 4.
On Aug. 17, nation leadership ordered residents of Nkaih and Lytton IR 9A to evacuate.
The Stein Mountain wildfire led to the evacuation of all six Lytton 4 reserves, and the Lytton 33 and Nicklepalm reserves, as well as Seah, Lytton 5A and Nesikep on Aug. 22.
On Aug. 18, Lytton’s Kitzowit, Lytton IR 26A, Skwayanope, Lytton IR31 and Nikeyeah reserves were ordered to evacuate, but the order was downgraded to an alert on Aug. 30.
Lytton elected chief Niakia Hanna told CBC’s The Early Edition that the nation prepared early for this wildfire season after it was hit hard by fires in 2021 and 2022. He said the trauma from those fires, however, remains.
“The moment smoke started moving into the community over a month ago, a lot of residents felt it,” Hanna said in the Aug. 23 interview.
“We opened up venues that normally wouldn’t be open to them, allowing them to leave the community, [offering] additional supports within the community. We’ve been very proactive on our response to date.”
On Aug. 17, just south of Lytton, residents of four Kanaka Bar Indian Band’s reserves – Nekliptum, Kanaka Bar 1A, Kanaka Bar 2 and Whyeek — were ordered to evacuate to Kamloops due to the Kookipi Creek wildfire.
A 2021 wildfire destroyed 90 per cent of Kanaka Bar lands, leading to 1,200 residents being displaced. Last year, the federal government gave the nation’s housing society $471,000 to build a temporary community hub for those
The same fire led to the evacuation of Siska Indian Band’s reserves number 3, 5 and 8 on Aug. 17, but residents were permitted to return home on Aug. 30.
Skwlāx te SecwepemcúÍecw’s Quaaout, Chum Creek and Scotch Creek reserves were evacuated on Aug. 18 due to the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire.
Barney Tomma, 63, who’s lived in the community his whole life, lost his home.
“Devastating, I’m too old to start over again,” Tomma told CBC News on Aug. 23.
In his home was a collection of 34,000 comic books he’s collected over the past 40 years, which he was planning to sell.
“That was my retirement fund, gone,” said Tomma, who fled his home with just a bar of soap and his medications. He’s staying at the Rayleigh evacuation camp just north of Kamloops.
Near the Yukon border, B.C. Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma ordered the evacuation of Liard First Nation’s Blue River, Dease River 2 and Horse Ranch Pass reserves, as well as Dease River First Nation’s reserves 3 and 4, on Aug. 18 due to the Little Blue River fire.
Tsal’alh band leadership ordered the evacuation of the Slosh 1 and Slosh 1A reserves, located northeast of Whistler, on Aug. 20. A month earlier, all of the band’s reserves were ordered to evacuate as a result of the Casper Creek wildfire.
On Aug. 21, members of Takla Nation’s North Takla Lake 12 reserve, located northwest of Prince George, were ordered to evacuate as a result of the Big Creek wildfire.
The Assembly of First Nations passed a 2019 resolution noting that First Nations communities were 18 times more likely to be evacuated during disasters and emergencies than non-First Nations communities.
“Despite being less than 4 per cent of Canada’ s population, Indigenous communities comprised nearly one- third of all evacuees and evacuation events in the last decade, due in large part to approximately 80 per cent of Indigenous communities in Canada being located in forests prone to wildfire,” the motion, which called for the federal government to provide stable funding for wildfire response, noted.
“Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to emergencies caused by wildfires due to their relative remoteness and limited access to emergency services.”
Visit www.rdbn.bc.ca for full B.C. Evacuation Order and Evacuation Alert information.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Native News.
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