Evacuees displaced from their homes in a Manitoba First Nation by flooding years ago say they’re now scrambling and without answers as their evacuee benefits come to an end — even though they still have no homes to return to in the community.
Dyson Spence lost his house in Peguis First Nation, in Manitoba’s Interlake region, when it was damaged in the spring flood of 2014.
Then 11 years old, he moved with his family to Winnipeg, about 160 kilometres south of Peguis. Monthly rent and incidentals were covered by the federal government via the Canadian Red Cross while the community worked to rebuild and replace damaged homes.
This month, the 19-year-old was evicted from his apartment as the federal evacuee benefits came to an end. He’s been staying with his grandparents in Peguis First Nation, desperate for a place of his own.
He’s among 121 Peguis First Nation evacuees who, as of this month, remained displaced by the 2014 flood, and who were still receiving the federal support.
“It’s very stressful, coming from living in the city and being stable for so long … to not being able to have your own house,” he said.
His aim now is to get his own house in Peguis.
But he says he’s been fighting to get answers from the First Nation and federal government on when he can get a new home, and to bring attention to the situation.
“There’s people that are really suffering from this.… It’s an issue that needs to be resolved and people need to take it seriously,” he said.
In 2011, severe flooding forced thousands to evacuate from 18 Manitoba First Nations, including Peguis. As of last May, 91 of the 2011 flood evacuees were still displaced, according to the federal government.
More heavy spring flooding in 2014 displaced people from 14 Manitoba First Nations. On Peguis, some 300 houses were damaged.
The federal Indigenous Services department “has worked closely with Peguis First Nation to repair and replace houses affected by flooding in 2014,” a spokesperson told CBC.
“Those homes were never fully repaired, they were never fully replaced,” said Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson. Though progress was made and some people returned to the community, about 200 new homes are still needed from both the 2014 flood and one in 2011, he says.
According to the Indigenous Services spokesperson, $4 million was invested to protect 75 Peguis homes from floods in 2011. Another $11.4 million went to build and repair damaged homes and demolish uninhabitable ones in 2014, and the community was reimbursed $5.75 million in March for housing repairs.
Hudson said although work to rebuild homes is still underway, more are needed, and the government has still not fulfilled a commitment to replace homes.
“That’s very troubling, and certainly impacting many people, and that is something that we have met with them [about] on more than one occasion,” but there still seems to be a “lack of commitment in terms of addressing that housing issue,” he said.
“This is not a way to treat Indigenous people in this country. We’re in a period of reconciliation right now. We’re willing to reconcile, but we have to fix things first.”
He said the First Nation needs an additional $25-30 million to build a housing complex for evacuees who remain displaced and unhoused after the floods.
‘It makes me kind of feel lost’: 2011 evacuee
A mother of two from Peguis First Nation says she feels left in the dark after not receiving her Red Cross benefits this month.
Crystal Manningway was displaced from her home in Peguis after the 2011 flood. For 10 years, she has been waiting to go home, moving from apartment to apartment in Winnipeg with her kids, now 10 and 20.
“I need gas right now and I’m struggling,” she said, adding she had no notice that the federal funding was ending.
“It makes me kind of feel lost — it’s hard. I just want to be settled down with my own house back home,” she said.
“Sometimes it feels like I have nowhere to go.”
The spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada said with benefits ending this month, evacuees should reach out to provincial or local governments for housing or income support, with the Canadian Red Cross making referrals.
“We recognize this has been a long evacuation, and the return to the community may be stressful for evacuees,” spokesperson Nicolas Moquin wrote. “Support is being made available through the Canadian Red Cross to help with moving and the return to the community.”
People getting housing repairs or going to school off-reserve had their benefits extended by one or three months respectively, Moquin said.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller added the department and the Red Cross will continue to work with the community as flood season starts up again.
“We recognize there is still more to do, and we will continue to support Peguis First Nation as they continue to rebuild,” he wrote in a statement.
When Dyson Spence, his mother and three brothers moved to Winnipeg, they stayed in a hotel and moved from place to place.
“We lost that connection to a lot of family and community because we were displaced,” he said. “My mom didn’t have a vehicle, so it’s not like we could go out of the city to visit family and stuff.”
The transition was hard, he said. He was bullied and drawn into a dangerous lifestyle.
“I got lost. I was doing crimes, I was on the street. I was sexually exploited at a very young age, on the street selling myself sometimes, and on the street stealing just to survive,” he said, adding his mother also got onto the wrong path.
“Being displaced from the reserve, we went through very traumatic events,” and that’s why he’s speaking out now, he said.
“I just want to heal from it and get my family to heal from it, and to return home to my community and my family and build a connection that was lost for almost a decade.”
He wants the federal government to extend the evacuee benefits for at least six more months, but holds the First Nation responsible for not providing him and others a place to live.
“Something’s up with why they haven’t had this issue resolved within the last eight years,” he said.
“Sometimes I feel alone too, and it’s hard. But I’m trying my best to figure this out and try and get somewhere to live.”
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