MLA says N.W.T. should do more to prepare communities for climate disasters

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Katrina Nokleby, left, MLA for Great Slave, speaking with interim Dehcho Grand Chief Stanley Sanguez. Nokleby recently visited both Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River First Nation to see the recovery from last year's flooding.  (Submitted by Katrina Nokleby - image credit)
Katrina Nokleby, left, MLA for Great Slave, speaking with interim Dehcho Grand Chief Stanley Sanguez. Nokleby recently visited both Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River First Nation to see the recovery from last year's flooding. (Submitted by Katrina Nokleby - image credit)

Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave, said the N.W.T. should be establishing long-term plans for dealing with climate change, and not putting the onus on individual communities.

Speaking with CBC News after she visited both Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River First Nation last week, she said the trip was informative, but also showed her where the territory had fallen short.

"There's a lot of things that don't really look like they've been thought out," she said.

As Hay River deals with flooding during spring breakup, other communities are preparing for the worst. With summer approaching there is fear of what forest fire season will bring.

Nokleby said the territory needs to be proactive and not put things like flood preparation solely on the community governments.

"We are always, constantly, not giving the municipalities any power or the ability to do anything," she said.

"And now when it comes to this critical climate change driven, unknown scenario where they say it's only on them to do it when they're already being underfunded, with no increase for how many years?"

Submitted by Katrina Nokleby
Submitted by Katrina Nokleby

Flood preparation was something Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said he felt the territorial government should be offering more assistance on.

"The territorial government still doesn't fund flood mitigation," he told CBC News in an interview in late April.

"Any of the preparation falls on the community and it's tough for a small community like Fort Simpson."

In an interview with CBC News last week, Shane Thompson, minister of municipal and community affairs, said the department has made a few changes for emergency management preparedness.

The majority of work falls on the superintendent role and MACA has established five positions for staff who will help manage the response and stay in close contact with community leaders.

Thompson said the severity of last years flooding caught many people off guard.

"This was the worst flood, when I talked to Elders about it, like, they have never, ever seen it this bad before," he said.

Northern premiers call on feds for more support

On Monday, the premiers of Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut issued a joint statement calling on the federal government to provide more support to the North in dealing with climate change.

"Canada's North is warming up three to four times faster than the global average and northern communities are seeing these impacts first-hand," the statement reads.

The premiers called for support and investment in climate-resilient infrastructure, renewable energy systems, emergency preparedness, northern research, health and wellness, preservation of cultural identity and economic opportunities.

In November 2021, Nokleby attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly known as COP26.

She said some of what she learned was how important it is to involve Indigenous people and governments in the discussions around preparing for climate change.

"The only way we're going to solve things is to empower the Indigenous people to do so and get them into positions of government because they care about this land and they're invested," she said.

Short-term fixes

While visiting both communities Nokleby said another issue she recognized was how short-term some of the recovery is. Many homes that were damaged, especially in Jean Marie River, remained in the same place, just raised higher off the ground.

Luke Carroll/ CBC
Luke Carroll/ CBC

"Kind of the idea is hoping that flood waters aren't going to come up that high," she said.

Nokleby said many flood victims were happy to be getting any sort of replacement, but it took a long time — one year later, many still haven't moved in.

She said many homes only have one exit which could be a fire hazard, and a lot of homes are built on dirt pad slopes which can risk erosion after a good rainfall or if flood waters reach.

"Just a lot of really like half done things," Nokleby said.

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