Beyond the flood: Meet the people of Peguis First Nation

In the heart of Manitoba’s Interlake, under big prairie skies, lies the community of Peguis First Nation.

It’s the largest First Nation in Manitoba with 10,000 members and roughly 3,500 living on reserve in bungalows that fan out along either side of the Fisher River, flowing north to lake Winnipeg.

It’s a close knit community, where so many people are named Sinclair, Sutherland and Spence that nicknames are more common than given names. According to local radio host Jesse Cochrane, you know you’re well liked if someone is teasing you, and neighbours are always ready to lend a hand.

So when the Fisher River spilled it’s banks in April of this year and historic flooding forced the evacuation of more than half of the reserve, it was the people of Peguis who worked tirelessly to save homes and protect the community.

Six months after the flood, Now or Never heads to Peguis to see how the community is recovering and to find out their dreams for the future. 

Five generations of women smile at the camera. Three women, one holding a baby, stand behind a seated elderly woman.
Paulene Sinclair (left), Natalie Spence, Yvonnie Spence, Danielle Spence (right) and great great grandmother Sybil Wilson celebrate five generations coming together at Grandparents Day. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

Welcome to Grandparents Day at Peguis Central School! The kindergarten to Grade 12 school is a hub of activity in Peguis and today they’re throwing open their doors so students can celebrate their mooshums and kookums with songs, hand made cards, and performances.

A man in a band t-shirt, with recording equipment behind him.
Jesse Cochrane had only been in the job a few months when the flood hit and his station became a lifeline for the community. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

If you want to know what’s happening in Peguis, tune in to Peguis Country Rock Radio where Jesse Cochrane brings you light-hearted banter, impressions of elders, and traffic updates courtesy of his binoculars. Jesse gives Ify a tour of the radio station and reflects on how the radio became a lifeline for many during the flood.

Host Ify Chiwetelu stands beside a woman with blonde hair and white cardigan, in front of Halloween decorations.
Linda ‘Chick’ Sinclair is the CEO of fun in Peguis as the recreation coordinator, but stepped up to help coordinate the flood fight this spring, even as water filled the basement of her house. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

While water was filling up in her home, Linda Chick Sinclair made her way to work to help others save theirs. We join the Peguis Event Planner at the rec center as she decorates for Halloween and continues to do what she does best, look for ways to bring the community together.

Two young men in hoodies, with sunglasses and hats on, smile at the camera as the sun glints behind them.
Dennis ‘DJ’ Stevenson and Devon Garson have each played for the Peguis Redmen for over a decade. (Andrew Friesen/CBC)

For the Peguis Redmen Baseball Team, flooded baseball diamonds means driving two hours to Winnipeg to get a practice in. Host Trevor Dineen joins teammates Devon Garson and Dennis “DJ” Stevenson in Peguis as they share their love for the game. 

A woman with a blue shirt and black cardigan, wearing glasses, smiles at the camera.
Karen Courchene Parisian spent months in hotels after her home was destroyed by flood waters (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

Since marrying into the community 28 years ago, Karen Courchene Parisian has called Peguis home. It’s been six months and counting since her family was evacuated to Winnipeg and she’s determined to save her house and find a way back home.

A group of smiling high school students with their arms around each other.
Julie-Ann McCorrister (left), Lizzy Thomas, De Vine Thomas and Shaniece Stevenson (right) are working hard to graduate this year, and dreaming big about what the future holds. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

Between COVID and the flooding, it’s been years since Peguis’ high school grads have been able to celebrate fully. This year though, they are dreaming big! Ify drops by the Bingo hall for a graduation fundraiser where future grads Julie-Ann McCorrister, Lizzy Thomas, Da Vine Thomas, and Shaniece Stevenson share their hopes and dreams for the future.

A man in a grey polo shirt stands in front of a number of flood-damaged homes.
William Sutherland stands in front of homes that were under water in April. He is constantly searching for solutions to the housing crisis in Peguis. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

To say that William Sutherland, Director of Housing and Emergency Management, is busy would be an understatement. He takes Ify on a tour of condemned homes, replacement units, and future housing sites, as he shares his hopes and frustrations.