Métis settlements eligible for relief under Alberta’s new Disaster Recovery Program
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Métis settlements have complex needs following the recent wildfires in Alberta, and the provincial government is “just trying to figure out how we can meet their needs and the complexities,” said Deputy Premier and Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis July 4.
Ellis joined with Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver to announce a $175 million Disaster Recovery Program that will be available to both municipalities and Métis settlements.
While thousands of First Nation members were also evacuated as wildfires encroached upon their communities, First Nation reserves fall under federal jurisdiction.
“(That) doesn’t mean that anybody is getting less service. That’s not what that means. It just means that one has more federal support and the other one, the other one doesn’t,” said Ellis.
Wildfires in May and June burned more than 1.4 million hectares and resulted in about 38,000 Albertans being evacuated from their homes.
For the first time ever, Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency.
“Obviously, from the Métis settlement perspective, where those folks have been impacted by fires, it becomes a little bit more challenging and nobody’s going to be left behind, but we’ve just got to figure out what the actual answer is to this, this very complex question,” said Ellis.
Among those complexities is how the province may respond to instances in which homes were lost on Métis settlements where occupants had no insurance.
East Prairie Métis Settlement was hit hard, losing approximately 40 structures, including 27 homes.
The Disaster Recovery Program provides financial assistance for uninsurable loss and damage caused by emergencies and disasters, but it is not intended to replace appropriate fire insurance coverage.
The province considers fire insurance “readily and reasonably available,” so the Disaster Recovery Program financial assistance for the 2023 wildfires is not available to homeowners, residential tenants, small business owners, landlords, agricultural operations, condominium associations and not-for-profit organizations.
The program covers costs incurred by municipalities and settlements in responding to the wildfires and repairing related damage. Eligible expenses that may be covered could include volunteer firefighter wages, local authority firefighter and municipal staff overtime costs, mutual aid costs for reception centre accommodation, food and transportation, structural protection costs and infrastructure damaged during the wildfire response, outlines a news release from Alberta Municipal Affairs.
For the Disaster Recovery Program, Alberta will cover 90 per cent of the price tag, with a municipality or settlement picking up the remaining 10 per cent. The province will ante up 50 per cent of its contribution when getting an application for funding from the impacted community. Case managers will work with the municipalities and settlements to determine the required funding. Upon receiving the final receipts, the province will remit its final 40 per cent of the cost.
Ellis said that Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson was already interacting with his federal counterpart to meet the needs of the First Nations.
A July 4 statement from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) indicated that seven First Nations in Alberta were currently impacted by wildfires, with three of them evacuated. Re-entry is underway for Dene Tha’ First Nation, although vulnerable members remain evacuated for health purposes.
During May and June about a dozen First Nations were impacted by the wildfires, whether through evacuations or evacuation alerts.
Fox Lake, a Little Red River Cree Nation community, was the most heavily hit Indigenous community in the province with more than 100 homes and more than 200 structures destroyed. Members still remain evacuated from the community.
After a wildfire, the federal Emergency Management Assistance Program covers First Nations for recovery-related expenses, including repair or replacement of homes, roads, and other infrastructure.
As the wildfires are still active, ISC says it continues to support communities affected and is in daily contact with leadership to discuss the day-to-day plans and supports required, as well as the long-term actions needed to support the communities that have had a loss of infrastructure.
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Windspeaker.com.
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