Hundreds of Manitoba First Nations residents, relocated to hotels across Winnipeg the last three weeks due to the threat of wildfires, were relieved Tuesday to find another move — this time to Brandon — had been scrapped.
Doreen Keeper — a mother of three who had to leave her home in Little Grand Rapids — said she became upset when she read a notice slipped under her hotel room door that told her she was being moved to a room in Brandon.
The notice, from the Canadian Red Cross, said residents had to check out by 11 a.m., and they would be on a bus for the 210-kilometre trip by 1 p.m.
"I found out about it (Monday) night," Keeper said. "I couldn't get to sleep until three or four. I was worried about it. I didn't want to go to Brandon."
Hundreds of evacuees from Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi received similar notices. But, after Indigenous leaders stepped in and contacted the Red Cross, additional hotel rooms in Winnipeg were found and the move was cancelled.
For Keeper and 14 other evacuee families staying at the Canad Inns — Health Sciences Centre, it meant waiting for a few hours in the lobby until a room could be made ready.
For others, it meant checking out of hotels — including the Travelodge in St. Vital, and the Motel 6 and Super 8 in Headingley — and being moved to other locations in the city.
"My concern was these people have already been displaced. And now they’re going to be displaced again? So we worked with the Red Cross and the hotels," said Kevin Hart, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Red Cross spokeswoman Michelle Palansky said about 350 evacuees, staying in a half-dozen Winnipeg hotels, were told they were going to have to move because the businesses no longer had available rooms.
"For some of them, it was that they had prior bookings that they needed to honour," Palansky said. "From what I understand, evacuees were not happy with being asked to relocated again. Under the directive of chief and council, we would redouble, retriple the effort to try to find rooms in Winnipeg.
"Apparently, after a lot of hard work late at night, rooms have been secured for everyone in Winnipeg."
It is the second extended wildfire evacuation in less than a year: hundreds of residents of the Island Lake region were relocated to Winnipeg last summer due to fires.
Problems last summer at Red Cross emergency shelters, and Tuesday's issues, are partly the result of difficulties co-ordinating aid for extended periods across provincial, federal and First Nations levels of governments, Manitoba chiefs say. They are pushing for the creation of a co-ordinating body that can handle such crises, taking over from the Canadian Red Cross.
"We need to get the resources and the capacity in place to adequately take care of our own people," Hart said. "That’s something the chiefs have asked me to work on, to get an emergency services organization up."
Keeper said, even with having to change rooms, she's still pleased with the job the Red Cross is doing.
"It's not their fault," she said. "They're doing a good job. They're really busy working hard to help out."
There was some more good news Tuesday, Keeper said.
"We just got word there will be power back on (at Little Grand Rapids) on the 22nd, and we will be going home on the 29th. We'll be so glad."
— with files from Ryan Thorpe and Alexandra Paul
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.