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Monday, October 17, 2011

Flood Evacuees Still Unable to Return Home

Months after their reserve flooded, hundreds of evacuees from a Manitoba First Nation are still unable to return to their homes and Canada's national chief says living in limbo is taking a toll.

Water is still more than two metres higher than normal in the remote aboriginal community of Lake St. Martin, north of Lake Manitoba. Evacuees from the reserve are still scattered around Winnipeg, staying in hotels. Some students are only now attending school in two church basements while others are enrolled in various schools around the city.

National Chief Shawn Atleo said the longer the evacuees are estranged from their community, the more the First Nation's culture and children are at risk.

“The elders are being disconnected from their way of life,” said Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations. “They're finding being in the urban setting is creating some risks for their young people, both the exposure to drugs and alcohol, as well as the criminal element and the gangs.”

The youngest evacuees are the most vulnerable, Atleo added.

“They've missed a lot of school. They're disconnected in different parts of the city. There is no sense of stability and there is a real vulnerability that we'll lose young people to negative forces.”

About 800 people from the lakeside community were evacuated in May. Provincial officials have said the community is virtually a “write-off” after this spring's devastating flood.

Many of the homes are beyond repair and have developed mould issues after years of chronic flooding. Chiefs, the province and Ottawa have been looking into a temporary home closer to the reserve while studying possible sites where the community could relocate permanently

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