‘I don’t have a home to go to’: Peguis First Nation evacuees left in limbo 9 months after flooding
More than 900 evacuees from Peguis First Nation still can’t to return to their community nearly nine months after floodwaters ravaged the reserve.
Nearly 300 homes are uninhabitable and many have been given no timeline for when they may be able to go back, Chief Glenn Hudson said.
At least 85 homes have already been condemned and nearly 200 are in need of major repairs before anyone can live in them again, Hudson said.
“The homes themselves are mould infested,” he said.
“The furnaces, the hot water tanks, washers and dryers … the appliances are all damaged. They’re not functional.”
More than 2,000 people were forced to leave the First Nation last spring and around 1,200 have been able to move back to their community.
However, many others are still in limbo.
“I know some people are frustrated,” Hudson said. “We have elders that want to come home. They don’t want to remain in the hotels anymore.”
More than 500 evacuees are still living in hotels in Winnipeg and Selkirk, the Red Cross said. Another 398 have been moved into private accommodations, Hudson said.
Melissa Sanderson has been living in a hotel room with her family since the community was evacuated.
“I’ve moved 10 times,” Sanderson said. “We’ve been to seven different hotels in nine months.”
Sanderson, her husband, four daughters and two nieces have been sharing two hotel rooms.
Peguis faced major flood events that required evacuations in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014.
“We have evacuees here from 2009,” Sanderson said. “So does that mean we have to stay here this long? … That’s the hard part for me, knowing I don’t have a home to go to.”
She went back to Peguis last week for the first time since October.
Her home, which was previously her grandparents’, has been condemned.
“It’s the only thing we have left of them,” she said through tears. “So being told that you can’t go home is hard.”
Sanderson struggles keep the kids occupied. They try to go out bowling, to the park and museum and to a movie every now and then, but it can get expensive.
“In the summer, we had a lot of things to do, and then now in the winter, there’s not very much activities for us to do and it is costly,” she said.
“Two weeks ago I took seven children — I took three of my nephews and my four daughters — and it cost me over $200 to go to a movie.”
Lana Sutherland has three children and 14 grandchildren, with another due any day now.
“Not knowing how long we were going to be gone, thinking we’ll be back by next week and still here nine months after … it’s a struggle,” she said.
Her son has seven kids and it’s hard having the them all cooped up in a hotel room every day, she said, especially during winter, and going out isn’t always an option.
“It’s very costly,” she said. “We do try our best to find all the little free things here and there. It’s a lot of work.”
Sutherland went back to Peguis recently to assess the damage to her home. While friends and family on the reserve helped clean up the best they could, it wasn’t enough to save it.
“It’s very heartbreaking,” she said. “We can’t take my grandkids back there. It’s not safe for them.”
She misses making home-cooked meals and spending holidays together in their community.
“We spent Christmas in Winnipeg. My family did take turns coming into my room and opening the presents and stuff,” she said. “We didn’t get to have our big Christmas dinner.”
Evacuees are given meals each day with help from the Red Cross. However, many would rather be able to cook.
Some of the rooms have microwaves and Sanderson is one of the lucky ones with a stovetop.
“Last weekend I went to Walmart … just to go get snacks,” Sanderson said. “We can get macaroni and spaghetti and stuff like that.”
But like Sutherland, she really misses being able to cook a nice meal.
“I can’t really cook meat, maybe hamburger or bacon … but it’s only a stovetop, right? I don’t have an oven,” she said.
Sanderson also has safety concerns. She lived on Peguis First Nation her entire life and living in a big city makes her fearful.
“I don’t have to lock my door when I’m at home,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my kids going missing, you know? I have four daughters and I have two nieces, so I’m scared. It’s scary.”
She said her kids are also scared.
“They’re getting depressed,” she said.
Between COVID-19 and the flood, some of the kids haven’t been in a classroom for nearly three years.
Sanderson’s eldest daughter would be graduating this year if she’d been able to stay in school.
Her younger kids are scared of going to school in the city.
“They’re scared about the new adjustments, about making friends,” she said. “My girls were just crying, like, wanting to go home.”
The children are not enrolled in school in the city. Instead, many are given homework packages and teaching is left up to the parents.
Amanda Flett has three children staying with her.
“My son, my 10-year-old, he likes doing his homework,” she said. “But my teenage son needs help in areas like math, and I’m no good at math.”
Flett tries her best and can help with the basics, but it’s not the same, she said.
“They need a teacher. I’m a mom,” she said. “It’s not the same. In school, they have extra help if they need it.”
Flett’s family recently moved into a rental apartment and she is looking at schools in the area for her kids.
Arlene Spence spent most of her life living on the reserve but in the past few months, she has been moved into hotels in Gimli, Selkirk and Winnipeg. She worries about people from the community.
“I see we are losing our young people to the demons here,” she said. “Like the drugs, the alcohol.”
She has started to feel those demons herself.
“I was never a drinker much but I’ve been dabbling lately,” she said. “What else is there to do?”
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