Municipality of Sioux Lookout unable to host evacuees in event of flooding, wildfires
Tim Brody - Editor
Last summer, Sioux Lookout hosted evacuees from Pikangikum First Nation and Keewaywin First Nation when wildfires threatened those communities.
Last November, Sioux Lookout hosted evacuees from Bearskin Lake First Nation when that community experienced flooding.
Should fire or flooding threaten any of Sioux Lookout’s neighbours at this time, Sioux Lookout will not be in a position to host evacuees.
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance shared, “In normal circumstances we are ready, willing, and able to act as either a host or hub community for people evacuated from their own communities, typically due to forest fire or flooding. But these are not normal times, they are most unusual times. We are neither ready nor able to act as a host community.”
Lawrance explained, “Much of our staff is at home, our facilities that would normally be part of our hosting plan are closed, and there is significant uncertainty about when and how things will open up again. Through our participation with NOMA we have advised the Provincial Government of our position, similar to most municipalities, with respect to evacuations. Through NOMA we have asked the Provincial Government to work with First Nations to make alternative arrangements for evacuations. It is our hope that plans are put in place to allow for any necessary evacuations to take place safely and as comfortably as possible for impacted people and communities. Like all, the Municipality looks forward to more normal times when we can once again fully act as the Hub of the North.”
In a letter to Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones dated April 6,
Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) President Wendy Landry shared, “I do want to address a concern that municipalities in the Northwest collectively share related to the upcoming spring thaw and forest fire season that results in the periodic need to evacuate First Nation communities. Let me preface this with acknowledging our willingness to accommodate evacuees when there are resources in place to do so, but given the situation currently underway, it is paramount for us to share the following:
• As a result of the COVID-19 crisis Municipalities have laid off staff and are working with an extremely reduced workforce. Those who continue to work are focused on essential service delivery and activities associated with continuity of governance and business operations. There is no capacity to deal with the heavy workload of emergency evacuation management normally carried out by host municipality staff.
• Municipal facilities normally used by evacuated people are closed (recreation, libraries, parks).
• Support services in sectors such as mental health, child and family services, are working at greatly reduced capacity.
• The coronavirus is spreading from the south to the north. First Nation communities are undertaking various activities, ‘lockdowns’, in an effort to keep the virus from entering their communities. Some may be successful, but we are extremely worried about the impact of the spread into remote communities without medical resources available. If a remote northern First Nation has no cases at the time an evacuation is required, it seems to make little sense to endanger their population by evacuating to a municipality to which the virus has already spread.”