Every year, many communities across Turtle Island near rivers and lakes brace for the possibility of a spring flood.
Often, traditional lands have become flood-prone from man-made dams or diversions or communities were moved onto flood plains by the Canadian government.
For Little Saskatchewan First Nation on Lake St. Martin, 255 kilometres north of Winnipeg, it’s meant 20 plus years of being prepared for massive spring flooding.
But in 2011, no amount of sandbags could keep back the water back when the Manitoba government made the decision to flood the Interlake region of the province in order to spare Winnipeg from nature’s wrath.
They were evacuated and their community was destroyed.
“It has a lot of emotional impact, and all the stress you go through, the feeling of being in your own home is not the same and you have to stay somewhere else,” said Muriel Woodford
“I was gone over six years. I just recently went back November 2017.”
Woodford now has a new home a few kilometers away from her old home, which survived the flood with significant damage but was lost in a brush fire in 2016.
Farmland was purchased on higher ground a kilometre from the old town site.
Seventy-seven homes have been built and are occupied with 93 more set for this summer.
Currently 300 evacuees remain scattered throughout Winnipeg while the new community continues to be built.
Bertha Travers is one of them.
She has been bounced from hotel to hotel, community to community before landing at an apartment in Winnipeg where she remains while awaiting a new home to replace the beloved one she lost to the flood.
She’s been waiting eight years.
That evacuation order in the Spring of 2011 still haunts her.
“To me, it really traumatized me emotionally because this is the second time in my life, being taken off reserve,” Travers said.
“When I was a little girl and I went to residential school, it came right back again. You know the memories, the flashing and it was horrible.”
She wasn’t about to be ordered off her reserve again so she stayed and waited. And the waters rose and rose.
“It took me until June 14 (2011) when I actually moved. The water was hitting the Jeep wheel wells. I finally got out then and told my dog, I said Chill (my dog), its time to go. ”
While the bulk of band members will be back living in their new homes in the new community this summer, having your people displaced all over the province for the better part of a decade, it’s the community itself that needs rebuilding.
“What we’ve been trying to do in the past few years is to bring our community and people together,” Councillor Darrell Shorting said.
“We hold events such as the Treaty Day, the fishing derbies, we supply meals in the community, we have barbecues,” said Shorting. “We also held meals in Winnipeg, things like that, that bring people together. It won’t resolve all the issues but hopefully bring people together.”
But being way from home for year’s changes people and their how they live. People have become urbanized living away from the community. Some who left as youth evacuees are now returning as young adults with kids. Many have become accustomed to city life and need to reconnect with their roots.
“If you left at 15 years old, you’re now 23 with a family, living in the city of Winnipeg, you can go to any corner store or Walmart,” said Coun. Leroy Thompson, adding the band is building a store to cover a wide variety of needs, along with a gas bar and a church.
As of April 23, 2019 the total cost related to the 2011 flood, which affected a handful of other First Nations in the region, was at $190 million and counting, according to Indigenous Services Canada.