Health and social impacts of long-term evacuation due to natural disasters in First Nations communities: A summary of lessons for public health

Publication Summary

This summary document by the National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCPH) describes the Long-Term Evacuees Project. It includes lessons learned from community-based research, as well as implications for public health responses to long-term evacuations due to natural disasters.

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.

While emergency preparedness is a core function of public health in Canada, the role of public health beyond short-term emergency response is often unclear. What’s more, First Nations Peoples are disproportionately impacted by repeated and prolonged displacement from their homes and communities due to natural disasters.

The health and social impacts of prolonged evacuation, as well as long-term consequences of natural disasters, need to be considered in collaborative emergency response and preparedness planning based in First Nations priorities and ongoing, meaningful relationships with public health.

Long-Term Evacuees Project

The National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCPH) undertook the Long-Term Evacuees (LTE) Project to explore the role of public health to address the health and social impacts of long-term evacuation due to natural disasters.

The LTE project includes environmental and literature scans, key informant interviews, and community-based research to explore the lived expertise of two First Nations that had recently experienced natural disasters.

This summary document provides a timeline and description of LTE project activities, as well as an overview of lessons learned from literature and consultations, including gaps in knowledge and evidence. Priorities identified through these initial steps provided direction for a community-based research component that informed two case studies of First Nations communities that have experienced evacuation due to natural disasters.

Lessons learned from First Nations case studies

Lessons learned apply to conducting community-based research in First Nations communities, including the importance of authentic relationships, a culturally safe approach and other ethical considerations.

The learnings cover a wide variety of topics:

  • The importance of prioritizing First Nations knowledge and self-determination to inform emergency plans
  • The necessity to regularly update emergency preparedness plans for specific community contexts
  • The value of clear communication protocols at every stage of the emergency response process
  • The need for consideration regarding service continuity, culturally appropriate supports, situational risk factors and community perspectives on loss and the concept of home
  • The prioritization of cultural and historical perspectives, including how evacuations can trigger memories of residential school experiences

Learnings for public health practice

Practical considerations for public health practice include supporting First Nations community-led approaches and culturally specific programs to address the long-term health and social impacts of long-term evacuation due to natural disasters.

Use this resource to:

  1. understand the importance and application of community-based research methods to inform emergency preparedness and evacuation planning for First Nations communities;
  2. develop culturally appropriate emergency response plans, communications protocols, service coordination and provision and training/practice guidelines for addressing the health and social needs of First Nations during emergency response; and
  3. create strategies to support the self-identified needs and priorities of First Nations Peoples throughout long-term evacuation, recovery and resettlement following natural disaster.