Impact of wildfire on fort mcmurray indigenous communities to be studied

Impact of wildfire on fort mcmurray indigenous communities to be studied

10 November 2016

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Canada —   The Red Cross is funding a study into the impact of May’s wildfire on Fort McMurray’s Indigenous communities.

The wildfire has made life more difficult for people already struggling with poverty, addiction, and trauma from the legacy of residential school abuse, say First Nations and Métis leaders.

“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Brian Fayant, vice-president of the Fort McMurray’s Nistawoyou Friendship Centre said. “People have deep-seated issues they need to address.”

People are dealing with elevated stress, homes that have been destroyed, and trap lines that disappeared along with the forest, he said.

Indigenous communities take in Fort McMurray fire evacuees, scramble to find members
Fort McKay welcomed evacuees, 4 days later the wildfire came knocking

The $500,000 study will examine a wide range of topics including the need for targeted mental health services, the impact of the fire on businesses, hunting and trapping, and harvesting of traditional food sources.

“Some of the trappers have lost their cabins. The other thing is what happened to the animals and the berry patches where they would have harvested for the summer and the fall,” Fayant said.

Indigenous groups support study

The project is overseen by the Athabasca Tribal Council and its partners. In total, 12 Indigenous communities and organizations are supporting the study. Individual community reports will be produced along with one regional study.

Mikisew Cree First Nation elder Hilda Lepine hopes the study identifies the needs of people like her who lost their homes in the fire and didn’t have any insurance.

“I was so proud of my home. It was something that I worked for and finally had something to call my own.”

Lepine said she doesn’t just need help rebuilding, but replacing equipment her family used to gather traditional food.

“My son lost all his hunting gear. He’s the one that provided me with the traditional food.”

The Fort McMurray Métis local office lost its building in the May wildfire along with documents and membership database.

“The organization suffered a huge loss because this was a meeting place. A lot of Métis gatherings happened on this land,” said Dan Stuckless, Fort McMurray Métis general manager.

The study will also help Indigenous groups assemble memberships lists that some lost and others didn’t have before the fire.

Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.

Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.

However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.

The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.

“People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires,” he said.

To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.

In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.

“We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them],” he warned.

However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.

“In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.

“We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation,” advised the minister.

Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.

“This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of  these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future,” said Oomen.

Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.

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