Dene Tha' First Nation building camp to cope with lengthy evacuation
The Dene Tha' First Nation in northern Alberta is setting up a temporary camp in the town of High Level to help residents while they can't go home during a lingering evacuation order.
Nearly 800 people from the community of Chateh, about 100 kilometres northwest of High Level, were evacuated May 13 due to the encroaching Long Lake fire.
As of this week, they didn't have an update on when they might be going home.
Chateh is one of the three communities that are part of the Dene Tha' First Nation, along with Bushe River and Meander River.
Chief Wilfred Hooka-Nooza said the new space will include laundry facilities, a kitchen and a common recreation area to accommodate about 400 people.
"Just finding a way to keep our people as comfortable as they can feel, away from home," Hooka-Nooza told CBC News.
He anticipates it'll be two to three weeks before the camp is finished, and it will be used for the rest of the summer if needed.
Nation members have been scattered around the region, as High Level was maxed out for hotel rooms with evacuees from other areas, Hooka-Nooza said.
Some are staying just east of High Level in Bushe River.
Celine Mercredi, an elder from Chateh, is making use of the evacuation centre there but said she's homesick.
"Frustrating. Loneliness. It's pretty hard," Mercredi told CBC News Wednesday. "We have rooms and showers, bathrooms and the kitchen. We're well taken care of but it's not home."
Many more people are camping in tents around Bushe River, including Kenneth Beaulieu and his family.
"I ain't going to lie, since we left home, it's actually been tough. It's actually been rough," Beaulieu said in an interview Wednesday.
He said they're sleeping on cots in the tents and it gets cold at night.
New mental health facility
The nation is also building a new mental health facility in Bushe River. It will have 19 units staffed with addictions specialists, funded by the federal government.
"They are displaced and they have a lot of concerns," Hooka-Nooza said. "It would be a good opportunity to take advantage of this service."
The First Nation gets a visiting counsellor in about once a week, but Hooka-Nooza said they could use four counsellors.
Beaulieu said he's been trying to see a counsellor for a while.
"I am still traumatized from last year — last year was the flood and this year the fire. OK, like what else could happen?"
Flooding also forced Chateh residents from their homes in May 2022.
"Like I told my mom, I need to get help, I told her," Beaulieu said. "It's too traumatizing."
Roughly 160 kilometres east of High Level, in Fox Lake, about 3,000 people remain on evacuation order.
The community is part of the Little Red River Cree Nation.
Darryel Sowan, emergency management communications lead for the nation, said Fox Lake residents have been evacuated for 22 days.
They, too, are building a camp for evacuees.
"We want to get them back off the gym floors and cots into proper beds as soon as you can," Sowan told CBC News Edmonton.
"We really don't know as of yet when they're going to get back into the community either."