by David Carson
David is a husband, a father and father-in- law to six, a professional forester, and a resident of the land of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. David, through his firm Land Forest People, works with Indigenous communities to foster social, cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability.
Canadian society is only recently waking up to the devastating effects of historical and continuing colonialism on Indigenous people and their communities. The horrors of residential schools have penetrated the slumber but we remain groggy. We are not yet alert enough to comprehend the many other manifestations of our systematic and institutionalized devaluation of other human beings. Many will find these words challenging, but how else do we explain that it has been acceptable to maintain very disparate levels of services for two groups of people within one very wealthy country.
We have read in the newspapers that half of the First Nations across Canada have little or no fire protection and that First Nation people are 10 times more likely to die in house fires. This has been falsely attributed to lack of equipment, facilities, and training. The actual causes are economic marginalization, poor housing, second-rate health care, underfunded schools, and lack of food security. Remoteness and isolation is also a factor, but instead of respecting the importance of connection to the land our reaction has been to displace the communities and exacerbate the above mentioned causes.
Indigenous people and communities are clearly resilient, as cultural genocide has failed. One community, Samahquam Ucwalmicw of the St’at’imc, is demonstrating the resilience of their community by taking the lead in ensuring resilience in the face of disaster. Samahquam is taking a self-dependence approach to emergency response preparedness despite a starting point of disadvantage.
Located at the 33km mark of a logging road, the Samahquam village of Q’aLaTKú7eM is deep in the forested lower Lillooet River valley. In the event of any natural or environmental emergency the outside world will not respond quickly. Self-dependence will be vital. However, Q’aLaTKú7eM is not alone. The neighbouring villages of Sachteen, Skatin, Tipella, and Port Douglas share friends, relations, and common exposure to the risks of natural and human caused disaster. With regard to emergency preparedness the villages are “in it together”.
Samahquam has initiated the development of an emergency preparedness community for all the villages and for all those with a stake in the health and safety of the people and property of the lower Lillooet River. Early in 2016 Samahquam prepared the Lower Lillooet River Emergency Management System which provides a framework for each community to undertake emergency planning, response, and recovery in a united and coordinated way.
This system brings together the many organizations which have important roles to play in managing emergencies down-river. All government agencies, businesses, and institutions which have jurisdiction or interests in the valley have a stake in the integrity of their operations and the safety of the people. All partners can pull together into a unified program. They can collectively best utilize the limited resources available.
Elements of the approach include the establishment of a shared institution to operate the system and attract resources, a unified Emergency Management Committee, standard operating procedures, and institutionalized roles and responsibilities to ensure ongoing response effectiveness.
Samahquam is currently developing their individual community all-hazards emergency management plan within the framework. It is hoped that the other communities will follow suit.
Next steps include joint training and preparedness exercises, and building local emergency social services capability.
The greatest challenge is the establishment of sustainable funding, but perhaps we are putting economic marginalization behind us – perhaps.
This community-based emergency preparedness concept goes well beyond the writing of a plan. They are building an emergency preparedness community and culture. Starting from a point of disadvantage is difficult, but the resiliency of the people will prevail.