Angel Elaine Prince was not expecting that she would be told she suddenly had to get out of her home this spring, but now that she is no longer in her own community, she is focused on the goal of helping others just like her, who have been forced to leave home because of rising floodwaters.
“There is just so much anxiety right now among so many people,” Prince, a Peguis First Nation resident and current evacuee said, while at the Clarion Hotel and Suites in Winnipeg on Thursday.
“It’s just total displacement dealing with being in a different community, and it’s hard because we are moving to different hotels every week, and families are cooped up in hotel rooms all day, every day.”
Prince is currently living with more than 200 other Peguis residents at the Clarion Hotel on Portage Avenue, and is one of the thousands forced to leave the community recently because of water from the Fisher River that has spilled over its banks, and led to widespread flooding and evacuations.
The flooding comes after three consecutive Colorado Lows in southern Manitoba brought three weekends of heavy precipitation last month.
Peguis, which sits more than 150 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is the largest First Nations community in Manitoba, with more than 10,300 residents, and the flooding has now forced more than 1,900 residents out of their homes as of Thursday, and into hotel rooms in Winnipeg and other cities.
Prince said she is worried about her own home and property, and about when she and her family might be able to return to Peguis. But she is focused on spending her time in Winnipeg working to help as many of her fellow Peguis community members as possible because right now many need a helping hand.
“I work as a supervisor of a daycare in Peguis, and I really see how this affects families and affects children,” she said. “So when I relocated I just said, ‘what can I do, and how can I help?’”
Prince and several others have now taken on a role helping community members to access a wide range of basic needs and services at the hotel ranging from food, supplies and diapers, to health care and mental health supports, and they are now set up in a room at the Clarion, where community members can come to access those services.
“People don’t really realize, but it’s a huge operation to take all these people and put them in these hotel rooms, and they can’t just be left on their own to work through it,” Prince said.
“We are working to make sure that people can come here and have whatever they need, we have access to doctors and prescriptions, we have mental health support workers on hand, and people can come even if they just want to get out of their room for a while, and come get a coffee and a snack.”
According to fellow Peguis resident and flood evacuee Tanisha Garrioch, who is working alongside Prince and others to support evacuees, a lot of the support for the people from her community now living in hotel rooms has come from the Red Cross, as well as from private donations of food, supplies and cash.
She believes that much more will be needed as residents wait and wonder when they will be able to go home.
“Some homes are destroyed, and some are now saying people could still be out in late August or early fall, so there is a lot of uncertainty, and some are living with eight to ten people in a hotel room here,” Garrioch said.
And according to Garrioch, there is also a lot of anxiety because she and others have been changing hotels regularly since arriving in Winnipeg, and she has no idea where she, her family, and the more than 200 other Peguis residents who are now at the Clarion will end up next week, and in the days and weeks to come.
“They are moving us every week, and we know we are leaving this week, but so far we don’t even know where we are going,” she said. “So every time we move we have to start over, and everything is new for everyone again.
“It’s been very difficult for so many people.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun