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‘I’m not used to any of this’: Mathias Colomb residents reflect on toll of evacuation

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‘I’m not used to any of this’: Mathias Colomb residents reflect on toll of evacuation
Many refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine or spring flooding and summer wildfires are having to adjust to a new life in Winnipeg, whether for a few weeks, months or even years. Rosanna Hempel reports on the toll the uncertainty is taking on them – Jul 25, 2022

Many refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine or spring flooding and summer wildfires are having to adjust to a new life in Winnipeg, whether for a few weeks, months or even years.

Cornelius Redhead is one of many evacuees from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation staying in Winnipeg hotels.

He’s trying to stay busy, volunteering to distribute donations among community members spread out across the city.

Read more: Manitoba wildfire grows nears Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, thousands evacuated

But he’s anxious to get home and reunite with his service dog, Bear. The pair got separated last week after wildfires forced the community to leave.

“I couldn’t bring him … because the helicopter I got on was already 210 lbs. overweight because they had to add extra fuel,” Redhead said.

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“I wasn’t allowed to take him, so I had to take my service dog back home,” he told Global News on Monday. “I was laying with him on the floor back home, and I had to like console him. Like, ‘I’m sorry I’m leaving you.”

Mathias Colomb Cree Nation evacuee Cornelius Redhead says he had to leave his eight-year-old service dog behind. Cornelius Redhead / Supplied

On Sunday night, he discovered his furry friend was still alive.

“I cried for a while when I found out,” he said.

“As soon as like there’s power restored back home, I can check my cameras to see how he’s doing.”

Some evacuees finding accommodations in poor condition

Although Redhead’s hotel stay is going well, he says it’s frustrating and stressful living in limbo, while battling panic attacks on a daily basis.

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The situation is also taking its toll on others, he added.

“Just some people had bad experiences, not like a lot of people, but there was more than a handful,” Redhead continued.

“A lot of people want to go home like really badly, like even if there’s no power,” Redhead said. “Even for me, like I’m not used to any of this. I’m a bush kid.”

His niece Aliya Linklater wanted to know why she was placed in a hotel crawling with cockroaches and small bugs.

The mother of a one-year-old was put up in a room near Health Sciences Centre.

“I went to go use the bathroom. I lift up the toilet seat, and we found a lot of cockroaches on the toilet seat, and they’re all running behind the toilet. There is a hole there with a bunch of cockroaches in it,” Linklater told Global News on Sunday.

Mathias Colomb Cree Nation evacuee Aliya Linklater wans to know why she was placed in a hotel crawling with cockroaches and small bugs. Iris Dyck / Global News

Linklater asked for help on Friday after finding more pests on her young son that left bite marks on his head, she said.

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But it took a sleepless night before Linklater could relocate elsewhere Saturday morning, her fourth hotel since arriving in Winnipeg last week.

“It was just really stressful ’cause, you know, that already happened to him when we first got here,” Linklater said through tears.

On Friday, Kaitlynn Brightnose with Mathias Colomb Cree Nation told media other evacuees were going through similar situations.

She said some had found discarded needles and dried blood.

“It’s not any where you want to be treated or living, being shuffled from hotel to hotel, and you’re being put in run-down places that’s basically squalor, like some of these rooms have mold,” Brightnose said.

In a statement on Saturday, the Canadian Red Cross said there weren’t more rooms available because hotels were at capacity.

They said evacuees could stay at a shelter the organization had opened at the University of Winnipeg until it found more rooms.

Linklater said things were much better at the new hotel but wanted to make sure no one else endured the same bad experience again.

Winnipeg hotel rooms in shorter supply with flood, fire evacuees, Ukrainian refugees

Redhead is one of 2,000 evacuees from Mathias Colomb being supported by the Canadian Red Cross in Manitoba. Another 1,500 flood evacuees from Peguis First Nation still haven’t returned home since the spring. This as more Ukrainian refugees arrive in Winnipeg each day.

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“Some days it’s around 10, 20, but some days it can go to about 50 or 60,” said Nick Krawetz, who volunteers with Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba.

The province says more than 460 hotel rooms are currently booked for Ukrainian refugees — stays that usually average around two weeks, Krawetz said.

“We recognize that it’s a very demanding time because of the flood situation and fires and so forth, and that’s why our community is trying to help assist these newcomers as much as possible so that they can transition as quickly as possible from the hotel.”

But the need will continue as the war in Ukraine rages on, he said.

Read more: Ukrainians in Manitoba reflect on 100 days of war

The Canadian Red Cross has been able to secure more hotel rooms in Brandon, Portage La Prairie, Thompson and Winnipeg in the last few days, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Monday.

“The Canadian Red Cross understands that the evacuated community members from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation have been through a stressful experience. Our team wants to provide the best possible support to the community members while they are out of their homes,” the organization said. “This includes providing access to clean, safe accommodation.”

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“We recognize that no accommodation can replace the comforts of home, and the Red Cross will continue to work closely with community leadership to help meet the needs of community members until they are able to safely return.”

Redhead is just hoping he won’t have to stay much longer. He was told the soonest he can return home is around mid-August.

Click to play video: 'Mathias Colomb Cree Nation wildfire rages on'
Mathias Colomb Cree Nation wildfire rages on

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