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Chief wants all members to receive pre-loaded debit cards from province

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







May 11, 2016.

Mikisew Cree Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille wants to see immediate dollars pledged by the province given to all members of his First Nation, not just the ones who fled the fire-ravaged area of Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

On Wednesday, the province is announcing how those displaced by the wild fire will be receiving the promised $1,250 per adult and $500 per dependent. Premier Rachel Notley said she expects the money to be distributed on pre-loaded debit cards like it was for the Slave Lake fire in 2011 and the southern Alberta floods in 2013. Approximately 88,000 people fled Fort McMurray. Two fires burning in the region have now claimed 229,000 hectares.

“I’m hoping to achieve (that money) for everybody because my community has been totally impacted by the influx of people coming to our community. It impacts the services in the community, groceries, the homes,” said Courtoreille.

Eriel Deranger, executive assistant and communications coordinator for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, agrees with Courtoreille’s assessment of the situation.

ACFN declared a state of emergency last Tuesday when the out-of-control wild fire spread through the community of Fort McMurray. Deranger says the declaration was made as a means to access immediate emergency funding to help members get home. Courtoreille says that as a state of emergency had been declared in the region, MCN, although prepared to do the same, did not need to.

Neither MCN nor ACFN has a full handle on the numbers of displaced members. Deranger tags ACFN members caught in the fire at around 160 families, while Courtoreille says there are approximately 200 MCN members staying in three hotels in Edmonton’s west end. Both agree that the majority of their members are split between seeking refuge in Edmonton and in Fort Chipewyan. Courtoreille notes that many of his members in Edmonton would like to make their way back north.

The impact of that displaced population is being felt keenly, says Deranger.

“Many of these people are living with other (family) members now. So the displacement isn’t just about those who lost their homes in Fort McMurray, but those who are almost being displaced in their own homes,” said Deranger.

This is not only the case in Fort Chipewyan, she notes, but also for families in Edmonton, Calgary, Lac La Biche, and other points, where members have sought refuge and are putting a financial burden on their hosts.

“We feel that almost our entire membership has been impacted in one way or another by this fire,” said Deranger.

It is also not clear as to how many ACFN or MCN members lost homes in Fort McMurray.

Deranger says a low income housing block in the Timberlea neighbourhood, which housed ACFN members, burned. The neighbourhoods of Beacon Hill and Waterways were also hard hit and were homes to many ACFN and MCN members as well.

“While we only represent a portion of the people who were displaced from Fort McMurray our people lived in the areas hit hardest by the fire. This is going to have lasting impacts on our entire Nation to be able to support our members,” said Deranger.

Courtoreille says he is unsure about the insurance situation, noting that most of the members, who rented probably did not have their belongings insured. He is more hopeful about members who were homeowners.

“There’s going to be some long term implications,” said Deranger. “Our entire Nation and our entire membership will be, or has been already, impacted by this fire.”

Courtoreille also serves as Grand Chief of Treaty 8.