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Saskatchewan fire evacuations: Shoal Lake and Red Earth Cree Nations return home

Fire fighters assembled to protect Shoal Lake and Red Earth Cree Nations.
Fire fighters assembled to protect Shoal Lake and Red Earth Cree Nations. Courtesy: Tina Pelletier

Members of Shoal Lake and Red Earth Cree Nations are heading home this week after fire and smoke evacuations forced them out earlier this month.

More than 700 people were evacuated to Prince Albert and Saskatoon, some going against orders and returning home early.

Read more: Heavy smoke means Shoal Lake, Red Earth Cree Nation evacuees will have to wait longer to return

The chiefs say those returning home at this time are undergoing rapid testing to ensure the evacuations don’t result in COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We’re finding it a great relief to finally have our people go home,” said Shoal Lake Cree Nation Chief Marcel Head. “Although the duration of the evacuation was way too long and there were contributing factors to the long stay away from home.”

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Smoke from the late-season Bell fire near Hudson Bay, Sask., is still blowing into the communities, but recent tests are showing significantly improved air quality.

They expect to return home to some remaining air quality concerns for at least a week and say members will be dealing with smoke damage in their homes — but the general feeling is one of relief.

Read more: Air quality advisory continued in Saskatchewan due to wildfire smoke

“People are saying they’re finally happy to go back home,” said Chief Marcel Head. “But some are [asking]what are going to be the supports [in place]… there’s a plan to make sure that we minimize the smoke coming into the houses.”

A lingering concern is food security after the hunting season was cut short by evacuations.

“Some of our members were wanting to have some of our traditional meat around this time,” said Red Earth Cree Nation Chief Fabian Head.

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“We lost a week in terms of our traditional hunting. Right now it’s duck season and moose season…the hunters are trying to get as many ducks and moose as they can.

“We only have a week left. Once the ponds and sloughs start freezing, that’s it for duck season… for sustenance for our members and their families.”

Read more: First Nation Chiefs blast Sask. government over firefighting efforts

Officials say they’ll be on standby for the time being to see if the smoke issues persist in their communities.

Click to play video: 'First Nation Chiefs blast Sask. government over firefighting efforts' First Nation Chiefs blast Sask. government over firefighting efforts
First Nation Chiefs blast Sask. government over firefighting efforts – Oct 5, 2021

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