Indigenous church leaders rally behind flood-stricken community

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Members of the Tataskewyak Cree Nation prepare sandbags following threat of floods in their area. Photo: Contributed
Members of the Tataskewyak Cree Nation prepare sandbags following threat of floods in their area. Photo: Contributed

A state of emergency declared weeks ago in a remote First Nation community in Manitoba remains in effect as Indigenous Anglican church leaders make plans to travel to the area June 13.

The chief and council of Tataskweyak Cree Nation declared the state of emergency May 17 because of high floodwater levels on the north shore of Split Lake, a reserve in the community of about 3,000 residents.

“The rising waters have come to the point of possible inundating of homes and washing out community infrastructure,” stated the band council’s resolution declaring the state of emergency. “There are potential water quality issues in the tap drinking water in Tataskweyak Cree Nation.”

The resolution also said a flood warning was being issued to residents whose homes faced the possibility of being inundated.

A flood warning has been issued to Tataskweyak Cree Nation residents whose homes face the possibility of being inundated. Photo: Contributed
A flood warning has been issued to Tataskweyak Cree Nation residents whose homes face the possibility of being inundated. Photo: Contributed

The boil-water advisory was put in place by Health Canada May 17 “because traces of bacteria have been found in our water supply,” stated a letter to all community members.

Archdeacon Larry Beardy, priest at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, said many residents continue to boil their water, fearing infection from E. coli bacteria.

“Also, we’re concerned about some of our sacred sites getting washed out, especially our cemetery,” he said a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal June 7.

The rising floodwaters threatened to wash away the Odie River Bridge, located on the only road that leads into the community. Asked if the level of the water had started to recede under the bridge, Beardy said, “I came over the bridge yesterday and it seemed the water is higher.”

On June 3, on behalf of the band council, Beardy, who is also a member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), invited National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, former primate Archbishop Michael Peers, Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh Bishop Lydia Mamakwa and Indigenous Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett to come and witness the devastation brought on by the flooding.

“Our people…are in despair and request that you can come as soon as possible,” Beardy wrote in emails to the group. “We want reassurance our lands, which include the sacred sites such as the cemetery, will be protected.”

Band council Chief Doreen Spence said in an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) June 6 that the state of emergency was brought on by “the high water levels and brought on by Manitoba Hydro when they released water from some dams downstream.”

Manitoba Hydro, however, maintains that heavy snowfall caused the flooding and responded, “We have actually reduced flows from the south (Lake Winnipeg) to reduce the amount of water flowing into the Nelson River where many of our large generating stations are located.”

An “informational” meeting on the rising water issues was held at the band hall June 7. Officials from Health Canada, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, and Manitoba Hydro were expected to attend. Beardy did not attend the meeting, but said he heard it went well.

Beardy said when they arrive in Split Lake June 11, MacDonald and Halkett are expected to take part in a water blessing ceremony at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church.

“Hopefully, they will provide prayer and help the people with the despair that the water has left them with,” said Beardy.

“Our community is about 3,000 people,” he said. “Tataskweyak Cree Nation and all the Anglicans in our community were very glad that the Anglican church is responding to our needs.”

Among those needs, he said, were the continuing prayers of the Anglican community across Canada.

 

Editor’s note:  Indigenous Anglican church leaders are planning to travel to Tataskweyak Cree Nation on June 13, not June 11 as reported earlier.  

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Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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