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Feds aim to streamline disaster assistance on reserves

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The federal government will work directly with provinces and First Nations to roll out emergency compensation for aboriginal communities evacuated as a result of fire, flood and other disasters, Ottawa announced Tuesday.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the federal government has put $19 million into the proposed overhaul of the federal emergency management protocol and hopes to use the new approach on all First Nations across Canada.

The minister made the announcement during a break in meetings he's chairing in Winnipeg today with provincial and territorial aboriginal affairs ministers.

"This new approach aims to establish new and advanced agreements with provinces and territories who are the first responders on First Nations where there are forest fires or floods or other emergencies," Valcourt said.

The model for the proposal was Alberta's flood evacuation this summer. The biggest differences between the Alberta plan and the one previously used in Manitoba is administrative.

Alberta handled evacuation and accommodation for First Nation flood victims and billed the federal Aboriginal Affairs department directly.

In Manitoba, where an estimated 2,000 displaced First Nations evacuees are living in hotel rooms two years after the 2011 flood, the funding arrangements are more complicated. The Manitoba Native Association of Fire Fighters acts as the middle man, handling evacuee arrangements; it submits its bills to the province's Emergency Measures Office, which turns to the federal disaster assistance program for compensation. But reimbursement is then kicked up the ladder to Aboriginal Affairs.

The new plan would streamline the process by doing away with the requirement for a middle-man agency like MANFF. Nor would provinces need to file claims through the disaster assistance program run under the federal Public Safety department. Instead, they'd deal directly with Aboriginal Affairs.

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