Wikwemikong hosting Kashechewan evacuees

KASHECHEWAN—In what seems to have become a yearly rite, the 1,900 residents of the Northern Ontario First Nation community of Kashechewan First Nation have been evacuated under threat from flooding of the Albany River. Four elderly residents arrived at the Wikwemikong Nursing Home at 1 in the morning recently.

“We do have four people staying with us from Kashechewan,” confirmed Wikwemikong Nursing Home Administrator Cheryl Osawabine-Peltier. “Last year we had 10 or 12.”

This year’s visitors include a couple, man and wife. “We were able to put them in the same room so they could be together,” said Ms. Osawabine-Peltier.

A couple of full-time residents of the Wiwkemikong Nursing Home in particular were very happy to see the four evacuees. One gentleman is from Kashechewan First Nation, having decided to make Wikwemikong his home. He was among those evacuees who arrived there last year and found that he was so taken with the home, the people and the caring and welcoming staff that he determined to remain, despite language barriers. Another resident came from the Fort Albany hospital and is also largely a Cree speaker. As Wikwemiking is primarily an Odawa/Ojibwe speaking community, the arrival of some native Cree speakers is a cause for some celebration.

“We are trying to learn some Cree,” noted Ms. Osawabine-Peltier. “One of the sisters will write something down in English and then write it out in Cree.” But largely communication with the Cree speaking guests has been accomplished through effective sign language and pantomime. “We are making do,” laughed the administrator, who was quick to point out that it is her staff who are making the guests feel at home. “I really have a wonderful staff here,” she said. “I can’t say enough good about them. They are the ones who make it all happen.”

It is not yet clear how long the evacuees will be staying at Wikwemikong. “I haven’t heard from CCAC (Community Care Access Centre) yet on that,” she said.

The late night arrival of the evacuees was difficult for everyone, she admitted, particularly the elderly evacuees. “We had hoped that they could bring them in during the morning, but for some reason that wasn’t possible,” said Ms. Osawabine-Peltier. “We did manage to get them settled in.”

There are approximately 70 people who have remained in Kashechewan First Nation to monitor the community’s critical infrastructure. An ice pileup upriver on the Albany River, some 18 kilometers north of the community, brought concerns that a venerable dike that protects the community from the fury of the river floods would not be capable of holding back the sudden flow should that jam release.

The federal government had earmarked $50 million to deal with the issue, an amount that has fallen far short of what was needed to repair and upgrade the dike, particularly since those funds are also apparently depleted by the need for regular evacuations of the community.

Evacuees from Kashechewan First Nation have been transported to the communities of Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Wawa, as well as Cornwall in eastern Ontario. Band officials confirmed that community members were also being brought to Ottawa, but that those evacuees were expected to be housed later in Cornwall.