Chief relieved amid Kashechewan evacuation

Keshechewan Ontario

KASHECHEWAN, Ont. – The chief of a remote northern Ontario First Nation says he is relieved that almost everyone in the community threatened by the rapidly rising Albany River has been evacuated.

Kashechewan Chief Derek Stephen says 388 more people are being evacuated Saturday of the 1,900 total residents in the community.

That is in addition to the 1,019 people who have already been brought to northern Ontario communities of Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Wawa, and Cornwall in eastern Ontario. Band officials said evacuees were also being brought to Ottawa, but would later be housed in Cornwall.

He says that leaves about 400 people left to relocate in the coming days.

“Some people get frustrated but that’s the norm, but other than that they’re taking it serious,” he said.

“There’s too many unknowns to stay in the community with the dike being vulnerable to overtopping and sloping and seeping.”

Stephen says he is relieved that the situation is moving ahead quickly, adding that his main concern was the safety of community members throughout the evacuation process.

This is the fourth consecutive year the First Nation has had to be evacuated.

Stephen told The Canadian Press on Thursday that the community spent $21 million on the evacuation last year, and millions more on repairs after much of the community had to live elsewhere for about a month.

About 350 people still live in hotels and apartments in Kapuskasing because of last year’s flood.

It’s time to move the entire community to higher ground so they don’t have to do this every spring when the ice thaws and the Albany River rises, Stephen said.

“The next step is to try and deal with the federal government on this issue to really push for a relocation for our community,” Stephen said Saturday.

“We just can’t keep on living the way we’ve been living for the last four years. This is the fourth consecutive year of evacuating the community at a [cost of] $20 million each time so it just doesn’t make any sense in the financial world.”

The office of Bernard Valcourt, the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, said Thursday that the government is “taking action” in First Nation communities across the country. The federal government is working along with the band council and the province to evacuate Kashechewan.

Charlie Angus, the MP whose riding of Timmins-James Bay includes the flood-prone area, chastised the federal government on Thursday for its inertia on the now-annual evacuation of the community.