Red Cross mobilized to help Peguis First Nation flood evacuees in Winnipeg

Rianna Flett’s young family of three left Peguis First Nation with just the clothes on their backs as floodwaters rose around them over the weekend.

Flett, her partner, Jordan McPherson, and their baby are among the more than 1,300 Peguis members who have been forced to leave until waters recede in their home community in Manitoba’s Interlake area, about 150 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Over the weekend, they were working to sandbag when they realized they couldn’t get back home.

“We got locked out of our reserve due to the flooding. We couldn’t drive through the roads with our car, so we had to just leave in a hurry,” Flett said.

Luckily, the couple has family in Winnipeg, so they’ve been able to borrow some clothes.

The Red Cross is also providing essentials, like diapers, wipes, food and water, using the Duckworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg as a hub.

Rianna Flett left Peguis First Nation with just the clothes on her back. She’s one of more than 1,300 residents who are in Winnipeg because of flooding in the Interlake First Nation. (CBC)

The relief organization is also working to gather activities and supplies to help the children who have been displaced by the flooding.

“That’s the biggest thing, is this is a very … out-of-the-ordinary situation,” said Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small. “If we can do things for them to just have fun and be kids, then that really helps them through the situation.”

For Flett, it’s her baby that is helping her cope with the challenges.

“She keeps us going. We want her to be safe, so we do what we have to do for her,” Flett said.

But she wonders why more isn’t being done to protect her community, which is vulnerable to flooding.

“Floods pretty much happen every year. They should have a a plan going to prevent people from leaving their homes,” Flett said. “We should expect the worst.”

Les Springs, another member of Peguis First Nation, left the community four days ago. He says he’d rather be home.

“It’s scary. We have animals at home too, and my babies are worried about their kittens,” he said.

“There’s no timetable yet for coming home. The water’s still really high.”

‘We deserve better’: chief

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson didn’t have to look far to see evidence of the rising waters. On Tuesday, the road to the First Nation’s band office was completely submerged, after water levels rose by as much as 10 centimetres overnight. 

“It is a hard time for our community right now,” he said, noting 1,374 people had been forced from their homes as of noon Tuesday, and approximately 700 homes had been damaged.

Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson says the government’s flood response has been slow. (Thomas Asselin/Radio-Canada)

Hudson said members of the community are hard at work sandbagging and working to protect homes at risk, but stressed more support is needed. He has reached out to both levels of government, but said the response has been slow and he only expects the military to be called in as a last resort.

“Our people have had enough … and we deserve better as First Nations people of this country,” he said.

“These types of things shouldn’t be happening any longer. The government has had three floods to act on these things in the past and unfortunately today, we’re experiencing another event.”

Peguis First Nation dealt with major flooding in 2009, 2011 and 2014. Some evacuees from previous floods are still displaced from their homes.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu says she knows the community is prone to flooding and is ensuring there are boots on the ground to help protect it. 

“Our department will continue to work with the chief to make sure we can quickly deploy resources to the community in a way that’s appropriate,” she told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson Kyle Fournier said in an email the same day that the department is working with partners to ensure there are generators, pumps and people to sandbag.