Teen from Manitoba First Nation ‘scared for her community’ after flood

Story by CBC Kids News • 2022-05-12 06:00

Community flooded five times in 16 years


In a matter of days, roughly 1,600 people in Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation have been displaced after the nearby Fisher River suddenly overflowed.

On May 2, community members were told to evacuate the area as water levels started suddenly rising.

Since then, the flood has destroyed hundreds of homes and is now believed to be the worst the Indigenous community in Manitoba's Interlake Region has ever seen.

Peguis isn’t the only Manitoba community being displaced by the floods. Some areas in Alberta and the Northwest Territories have also been affected by flooding in recent days.

For now, many community members have been given or found temporary housing  in Winnipeg until they can return and rebuild their homes.

They say the government needs to be doing more to fund flood prevention, so that this pattern of displacement comes to an end.

Peguis is the largest First Nation community in Manitoba. There are about  3,521 members living on the reserve and 6,504 off-reserve members. (Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC Kids News)

How one Peguis First Nation teen was affected by flooding

After a heavy snowfall a few weeks back, 17-year-old Diamond Thickfoot-Thomas and her family were anxiously awaiting the possibility of a flood from melting snow.

That’s because it’s happened before: in the last 16 years, the Fisher River has spilled over and flooded Peguis First Nation five times.

Damian Bird, far left, from Black River First Nation and Emma Bird, right, from Peguis First Nation worked together to sandbag a Peguis home on May 6 after the Fisher River flooded broad area of Manitoba's Interlake region. (Image credit: Jaison Empson/CBC)

In 2011, when Diamond was six, a flood in Peguis forced her family to leave their home for many months.

It was heartbreaking for her.

“Being so far away from your community takes a toll on you because you’re so used to the land back home,” Diamond told CBC Kids News.

When she got a phone call on May 2 saying she’d again need to evacuate, it was her community’s well-being that came to mind.

“I felt scared for my community, not really anything else. Community is everything,” Diamond said.

Diamond and her parents, along with her two brothers and five sisters, packed up all of their things and left to find temporary housing at a hotel in Winnipeg.

How it felt for Diamond to leave her home

Diamond said it was eerie leaving Peguis as the water levels started to rise.

“We had to drive through a road poured over with water, which was kind of scary,” she said.

“Roads were blocked off, bridges were [falling] down, and everyone was in a state of panic.”

Once Diamond’s family got to Winnipeg, they went to the Red Cross to get support so they could stay in a hotel.

Since then, they’ve been set up in three different places.

Since her family is so big and has to pack up everything each time they move, Diamond says it’s been a really tough transition.

Houses become partially submerged by floodwater on May 6 in Peguis First Nation. (Image credit: Jaison Empson/CBC)

The hardest part is thinking about her community, particularly of the brand new homes in her area, which were built after  previous floods.

“It took five years for those houses to be built, and for them to be broken again, my heart breaks,” she said.

Things need to change, teen says

Every time there's a flood in Peguis, the provincial and federal governments respond with some form of help.

Help might look like  sandbags, which create barriers between floodwater and buildings, paid hotel stays for families affected by the floods and even replacing dozens of flood-damaged homes.

Even after so many floods, Peguis still doesn’t have funding for permanent flood protection from the government.

That means every three or four years, on average, the community gets displaced.

Diamond says that she wants the government to take action and help.

“We didn’t get funding from the government for [flood protection] , and that takes a big toll on us,” said Diamond.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson said it’s been a battle to get that essential funding.

"In terms of the long-term flood protection efforts, there has been very little money identified for that purpose, and that's something we've been asking the federal government for," he said in an interview with CBC News.

As it stands, the government does not have flood protection funding in the works for Peguis. CBC reached out to the federal government last week, and they did not commit to a plan for funding flood protection for the First Nation. 

What’s next for Diamond’s family

For now, Diamond isn’t sure what the future holds for her and her family.

While they can’t go back home until the water levels lower, their house is thankfully in an area of Peguis which was less affected by flooding.

Diamond said she’s eager to return to her community to help sandbag homes and prevent future damage.

Despite all of the heartbreak, she’s inspired by those who are reaching out to help.

“A lot of people from different places are coming out to help us now,” she said. “And that just means so much to everyone.”

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With files from Bartley Kives/CBC, and Sam Samson/CBC

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