Debates of the Senate  
3rd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 147, Issue 47.
  Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Question Period: First Nations and Northern Development

  Natural Disasters in Prairie First Nations Communities

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, natural disasters have been ravaging First Nations reserves in the Prairie provinces, leaving many without homes and basic infrastructure.

Manitoba has been ravaged by a flood season that has torn apart First Nations reserves. In the past 15 months, at least five major floods have left Manitoba First Nations reserves in dire straits. The Peguis First Nation has seen 207 of its members evacuated, with an additional 100 to be added. Their water sources are contaminated as the floods have destroyed basic infrastructure, including their sewage system.

In Saskatchewan, a tornado hit the Kawacatoose First Nation last Friday, ripping through homes. The reserve was already dealing with housing shortages such that, on average, four families were living in a single unit. This tornado has compounded the devastation and has created an immensely tough situation for the community.

These First Nations communities have been told that it may take years to deal with the damage to their reserves. This is unacceptable.

Could the Leader of the Government in the Senate explain to honourable senators how her government is dealing with these crises, as concrete solutions are needed now? With all this money being spent on infrastructure in the government's touted Economic Action Plan, where is the money for disaster relief on First Nations reserves?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, obviously the flooding on the Prairies is of great concern, not only to the people living on reserves, but also to the agricultural sector.

In response to questions by Senator Peterson about the situation faced by farmers, wheat and oilseeds growers, I responded that the minister in that case was literally in the fields meeting with the provincial officials.

With regard to flooding on the reserves, there has been considerable damage, as Senator Dyck has stated. People have been forced from their homes. I do not have the details before me, but I do know that Minister Chuck Strahl, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, has been working with the people in the communities and the provincial departments. Even though this is a federal responsibility, there are also implications for the provinces. Unfortunately, since I do not have the information here, I will have to provide a written response to Senator Dyck.

Senator Dyck: I have a supplementary question. One of the articles with regard to the tornado situation on the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan stated that it was thought the tornado might be a higher category level simply because of the extent of the devastation of the homes. The article suggested that the houses constructed were of a lesser standard than would have been the situation in a mainstream community.

Could the minister look into the standards for housing on First Nations reserves? Are they substandard compared to other communities?

Senator LeBreton: That is a difficult question. A considerable amount of money has been expended on housing on reserves, so I would doubt they are substandard.

I will ask the question, honourable senators. When a tornado strikes, we have seen many examples where huge farm buildings, tractors and machinery get tossed around like little toys. Therefore, I cannot imagine that any house could withstand that kind of weather condition. In any event, I will ask the question.