Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protect reserves

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A report on the federal government's response to the Assiniboine River flooding of reserves in 2011 shows a breathtaking breakdown in care and duty. As thousands of people were displaced by flooding, one federal employee here was left to manage the fallout. That's unconscionable, given the scale of the disaster and the people dislocated, some now for years.

In some other provinces, Ottawa uses provincial emergency measures personnel when reserves are flooded. In Manitoba, it uses the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters.

What the report does not say is why protocol did not click in when the weather event went from emergency to crisis, to trigger a robust response from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Ottawa has given no reply to that outstanding question.

The report points out First Nations in southern Manitoba are vulnerable to floods and their fallout. The "propensity for flooding" is compounded by "poor community planning, limited/poor flood-control infrastructure, the lack of financial resources and technical expertise, as well as lack of clarity in systems, processes and mechanisms for dealing with emergency situations."

A 2005 departmental strategy for fighting floods stressed the need for protection, but, the recent report says, no mitigation work was done. First Nations are responsible for their own response plans. But with few resources and next to no economy, most are easily overwhelmed in emergencies.

Manitoba's own review of the 2011 Assiniboine River flood found flood mitigation in municipalities had some problems -- lack of co-ordination, for example, means one RM's drain simply ends at the border, spilling into the next. They all, however, had land-development plans. None of the First Nations involved in the review did.

The crisis response was deplorable, but not surprising given the neglect Ottawa has exhibited on the flood file. Returning residents to houses repaired or rebuilt in time for the next inundation is no fix. Aboriginal Affairs says it is in discussions on the weaknesses of its flood plan. Years too late, it is time to protect reserves with good drainage, barriers and proper regulation of land use.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 A16

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