This document is part of three-part series called the Long-Term Evacuees Project, produced by the National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCPH). The goal of the project is to explore the long-term effects of evacuations due to natural disasters and associated public health responses. See below for links to the other documents in this series.
First Nations peoples are at increased risk of being evacuated from their communities due to natural disasters. Existing inequities plus the impact of displacement in connection to land and community has negative health and social impacts on First Nations peoples over the long-term.
Understanding public health’s role to address and mitigate the negative impacts of natural disasters and emergency response processes needs to be rooted in the lived experience of disaster evacuation, which will vary across communities.
Based on first-person accounts from community members, this case study explores the process and impacts of evacuation on the Blackfoot people of Siksika Nation following the Bow River flood in 2013.
Reflecting on the evacuation experience, community members reported feelings of shock, uncertainty, confusion and isolation.
Moreover, the physical and mental health of evacuees was directly impacted by factors such as:
- poor communication;
- inequitable access to and distribution of resources; and
- service delivery that was not culturally relevant or safe directly.
Some circumstances were mitigated through community-based practices of sharing and supporting each other, known as the “Siksika way of life.” At the same time, new housing was unsuitable and inadequate, further exacerbating the negative impacts of the emergency procedures themselves.
Participants offered critical insights to inform public health responses, such as
- addressing factors in the physical environment that affect health; this includes housing (both temporary and permanent) as well the health of natural environments, such as land and waters; and
- using reconciliation to guide relationship-building, coordinated emergency response and evacuation procedures; this includes First Nation-led approaches that are culturally safe and responsive.
Given that the experiences of one First Nation cannot be assumed to be applicable to another, community-specific factors and context are necessary to inform appropriate disaster responses in the short and long term.
Use this resource to:
- Facilitate discussion about First Nations communities at risk of evacuation due to natural disaster and how to develop meaningful relationships with those communities.
- Identify emergency response and recovery plans currently in place for First Nations communities in your area and explore, with the community, the role of public health to support long-term recovery efforts.
- Develop a plan with the community for how public health can address the long-term health, social, environmental, and cultural impacts of extended or repeated evacuations due to natural disaster.