On June 13, as flood waters rose around the Cree community of Split Lake, Ont., National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett travelled to the site to survey the situation and provide support for the local community.
“There was quite a bit of concern that the water did not appear to have crested at that point,” MacDonald said in an interview after his visit, noting that residents were worried the only bridge connecting the community to the rest of the province would be washed out.
The community, which is part of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, declared a state of emergency May 17, at which time Health Canada put the community on a boil water advisory following concerns that the water might be contaminated with E.coli.
During his visit, MacDonald and Halkett took a helicopter tour of the area and saw rivers and lakes bursting their banks and overflowing the surrounding land.
Following the tour, he performed a blessing ceremony while visiting the local Anglican church, St. John the Baptist.
He led the congregation in a prayer that the cemetery would not be washed away in the flood—a major concern for many of the local Anglicans.
While the waters have receded to some degree since his visit, MacDonald stressed that the flooding, which was on a scale he said was unknown before, could seriously disrupt the fishing and hunting practices that are key for the community’s food security.
“Like a lot of northern communities, subsistence fishing and hunting is very important to their survival, because the cost of food is so great,” he said. “I don’t think people have been out to their cabins and places yet, but it looked like there was going to be some damage there.”
MacDonald said the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) was “definitely responsive” when they learned of the flooding, but in the end, Split Lake has not requested its support.
However, he thinks the flooding is a reminder of the difficult conditions under which Indigenous peoples and nations live.
“We have to be aware of the vulnerability of our First Nations communities,” MacDonald said. “The precariousness of the situation of many communities in the North [means that] something…can push them over into a dire situation very quickly.”