Nearly four months after floodwaters tore down the Nicola Valley, a number of homes on Shackan Indian Band lands remain largely inaccessible, and the families who lived in them say they’re unsure if they’ll ever be able to return.
“The atmospheric river can seem like old news to a lot of people, but for us we’re not out of the woods yet,” Shackan Band community wellness manager Lenora Starr told Global News.
“As the snow is melting we’re seeing the true impacts in all of the debris and all of the damage that’s been done to the landscape,” Starr said.
Seven households on the south side of the Nicola River near Merritt, B.C., remain under an evacuation order due to a bridge that was washed away. More than 100 days since the storm struck, Starr is among those who still can’t go home.
November’s devastating floods came on the heels of an already emotional national reckoning on the legacy of Canada’s residential schools and a wildfire season that saw residents of the area evacuated.
With spring rapidly approaching, community members are also now growing apprehensive that they could face more flooding, before they’ve had a chance to recover from the last disaster.
“I worry about what’s going to happen in spring with freshet and if it’s going to wash those homes away that are on the south side,” Starr said.
“It’s really trauma upon trauma upon trauma.”
Shackan Band Councillor Yvonne Joe is also still evacuated from her home, and told Global News seeing the storm damage — ranging from dead trees to scattered cars, refrigerators and bathtubs — was more of a shock than she had expected.
“My grandparents, their blood, sweat and tears are on this land and it’s just really sad to see that we aren’t here,” she said.
As the province prioritizes repairs to key highway infrastructure, it is also pledging both short and long-term support for First Nations.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said collaboration with Indigenous communities is now enshrined in B.C. law upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“(It was) very much a product of co-development, that legislation that will recognize First Nations as equal partners with us in the new emergency program act,” Farnworth said Wednesday.
“We’ll work closely with the Shackan First Nation and federal government in ensuring there are supports for those people.”
About 50 people living on Shackan reserve land were originally evacuated from their homes due to the flooding, and most were able to return several weeks ago.
The community is providing meals at the band hall for those who are still without running water, refrigerators or other essentials.
“We’re trying to survive still,” Starr said. “We’re not thriving yet.”