The federal department that responds to infrastructure issues in Indigenous communities says it’s unaware of reported problems with dikes at the remote Fort Albany First Nation.
An Indigenous Services Canada spokesman said in an email the department “is in daily contact with (Fort Albany), and has not been made aware of any dike damage (nor) has received any request for funding to rebuild or repair dikes.”
About 1,200 people live in the remote James Bay community, which was partially evacuated late last month as a precaution due to the threat of spring floods.
Flooding is an annual concern in Fort Albany, as well as its neighbouring community — Kashechewan First Nation.
While the Fort Albany evacuation was underway, the community’s chief, Elizabeth Kataquapit, accused the government of ignoring concerns about the dikes that she said have been expressed over many years.
“The dikes that protect our community have failed twice over the years, and there is a very real threat that this could happen again,” Kataquapit said in an earlier news release.
Meanwhile, Fort Albany evacuees, who were accommodated in Niagara Falls in southern Ontario, are expected to begin returning to their home community this weekend by plane as the flood threat subsides.
At the beginning of the evacuation, they were flown to Kapuskasing in small aircraft, then transported to Niagara Falls by jet from Kapuskasing’s airport.
The wait to return home could be a bit longer for a separate group of 450 Kashechewan evacuee, while a fuel spill that caused odor issues in their community is being cleaned up. The Kashechewan residents are being put in Kapuskasing.
Kapuskasing, which has a population of about 8,000 people, has for several years become a go-to destination when remote Indigenous communities are threatened by floods or forest fires.
“We like to help, but there is a positive economic benefit to our community,” town chief administrator Guylain Baril said Thursday.
Of the 450 Kashechewan evacuees currently in town, the municipality is responsible for accommodating about 140 of the total. The rest are being taken care of by a private entity, Baril said.
Depending on the length and complexity of an evacuation, the municipality can end up with a net profit of $300,000, or as much as $1 million, once it has been reimbursed by the federal government.
The funds help maintain municipal infrastructure, such as the local sports arena and roads, Baril said.
In 2019, the federal government established a national $43.7-million First Nations emergency management program “to support First Nations capacity to plan for and deal with various natural emergencies, including flooding.”
The funding was to be spread over five years.
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