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CBC Radio: Indigenous Leaders Empower Youth on Reserves to Build Community Resilience against Disasters


What the hell4:17 p.m.How indigenous leaders are teaching youth on reservations to help their communities cope with disasters

In the face of Canada’s worst wildfire season on record, a national program that teaches indigenous youth to become emergency preparedness leaders is more important than ever, its founders say.

He Preparing Our Home The program aims to improve disaster management in the reserve by sharing practices aimed at indigenous communities, communities that are increasingly and disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.

Darlene Yellow Old Woman-Munro with a young apprentice at a Preparing Our Home meeting in Osoyoos, BC Helps connect seniors and emergency management professionals with indigenous youth who can become leaders in their communities. (Charlie Melody)

“With Preparando Nuestra Casa, there has been a real awareness and education [about] disasters and evacuations, how to work with your community when those incidents occur,” the show’s co-founder and mentor, Darlene Yellow Old Woman-Munro, told CBC’s What the hell.

As part of the program, Yellow Old Woman-Munro shares lessons learned during the weather-related disaster that struck her own nation: the 2013 flood that hit the Siksika Nation and other parts of southern Alberta.

A new model to support evacuated indigenous people

Out of this, Yellow Old Woman-Munro developed the Dancing Deer Disaster Recovery Center to help evacuees spread across the vast reservation.

Evacuees were typically expected to travel to a central location for support, but Yellow Old Woman-Munro said she knew her community needed a different approach. She assembled a team of health workers and youth to visit the evacuees at the temporary sites where they lived.

Thirteen people pose, smiling, against a red wall.
Yellow Old Woman-Munro, center, with members of the Dancing Deer Disaster Recovery Center, a team created to help evacuees from the flood that hit the Siksika Nation in Alberta in 2013. (Dancing Deer Disaster Recovery Center)

“For the evacuees, travel was a problem,” Yellow Old Woman-Munro said. “So it was easier for us…to go out and meet the evacuees, find out what they needed, bring them food, water, blankets, tents.”

The Preparing Our Home Program, which has been running for seven years, shares these kinds of community-focused practices with indigenous youth across Canada.

Program co-founder and director Lilia Yumagulova said conventional disaster response is inappropriate for many who live on the reserve. For example, being taken on a bus and housed in evacuation centers, such as gyms with rows of cots and bright lights, can be a “traumatic trigger event” for residential school survivors, she said.

“There’s a lot … that needs to be changed to make it much more culturally safe,” he said.

‘You are not alone in facing these problems’

When it comes to emergency preparedness, Yumagulova said, conventional messaging is aimed at middle-class people without disabilities who can afford an emergency preparedness kit and a vehicle.

“There is this silent majority that actually falls outside of those spaces and that is where a lot of preparation efforts need to be directed,” he said.

Preparing Our Home holds an annual gathering in Osoyoos, BC in the fall, during which youth learn from elders and emergency management professionals.

“We really start with understanding why communities are at such disproportionate risk,” Yumagulova said. “So you start with the Indigenous Law and the forced displacement that many communities went through.”

Then, he said, they explore solutions from indigenous communities across the country.

“Young people say it’s amazing to know that you’re not alone in dealing with these problems,” he said.

Indigenous-led evacuation

Michelle Vandevord, a Muskoday First Nation firefighter and associate director of Saskatchewan First Nations Emergency Management, is a mentor for the program. She teaches youth about wildfire management and indigenous-led evacuation practices.

A woman in a firefighter's uniform stands in front of a fire truck, smiling, her hand on the door handle
Michelle Vandevord, a Muskoday First Nation firefighter and associate director of Saskatchewan First Nations Emergency Management, is a mentor for the Preparing Our Home program. (Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada)

Case in point: a cultural camp held in Prince Albert, Sask., in May for evacuees from the fire that threatened the community at Lake Deschambault in the northeast of the province.

“When you think about our First Nations people going to hotels and the meals that are served, it’s not something people are used to,” Vandevord said.

Fast food can have health impacts on people in remote communities, especially diabetics, he added.

The cultural camp in Prince Albert, he said, served fish, caribou and elk, offering evacuees a family-friendly meal of traditional foods.

“[It was] led by First Nations, solving a problem we see on the ground,” Vandevord said.

Such practices are vital to community well-being during disasters, say Preparando Nuestro Hogar mentors.

Emergency Management Careers

The goal of the annual gathering is for youth to return to their communities and teach others what they have learned about emergency preparedness.

The event may also lead to careers in emergency management for some of the youth participants.

A young man wearing glasses and a black baseball cap stands smiling slightly in an office setting.
Brent Boissoneau, 24, attended the Preparing Our Home meeting and was hired as the emergency management coordinator for his community, Mattagmi First Nation in Ontario, earlier this year. (Preparing Our Home)

Brent Boissoneau, 24, is one of them. He attended the meeting several years ago and was hired as the emergency management coordinator for his community, Mattagami First Nation in Ontario, earlier this year. It’s a federally funded function that many, including Canada’s Auditor General, say is critical for indigenous communities during disasters.

“You learn a lot from other people who are there,” Boissoneau said of the meeting. “And build that relationship to see what [disaster management strategies] can we take from them and what can we give them as well?”

More reactive than preventive

An Auditor General of 2022 report He said the federal government is not providing the support First Nations need to handle emergencies. The report says that many problems were identified a decade ago, but have not been resolved by the Indian Services of Canada.

Lilia Yumagulova said that there has been some progress.

“Indigenous peoples within these colonial structures… are doing [an] There has been a huge difference in the progress of these files,” he said. “Unfortunately there have been report after report after report and the change is not fast enough.”

The report finds that the actions of Indigenous Services of Canada are more reactive than preventive. The department spends 3.5 times more on disaster response and recovery than on emergency prevention and preparedness.

Preparing Our Home is funded primarily through a grant from Indigenous Services Canada, but the Auditor General says the federal government must do more to fund emergency preparedness, including working with First Nations to determine how many emergency management coordinators more emergencies are needed in Primera. Nations across the country and finance them.

In an emailed statement, Indigenous Services Canada said it has made progress on all the recommendations in the 2022 Auditor General’s report. The department said it is working with First Nations partners to improve emergency management services, which includes “supporting new First Nations-led service delivery models that reflect community needs and First Nations’ inherent right to self-determination.”

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