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Canada Burns, Forcing Thousands of Indigenous Residents to Flee

By: Emily Ao

Fires started to spread throughout Canada in late April, but now that the summer season is here, excessive heat fuels fires and makes the situation way more complicated. Large fires have spread quickly and destroyed highways and paths. Joshua Isheroff, a 45-year-old member of the Cree nation of Nemaska, says that encountering the fire while driving was “very traumatic.” Isolated Indigenous communities have been cut off from transportation and communication by the blazes. According to Isheroff, the high winds accompanying the fires were extremely strong, and nearly lifted his car off the pavement.

Indigenous communities are having a hard time coping with the fires, which are spreading way more quickly than expected. Some communities have been forced to flee multiple times due to fires that pop in and out. Families were separated across hundreds of miles. In response to this, the Canadian government has given $55 million to suffering Indigenous communities. According to the New York Times, more than 1,000 active fires are happening, at least 600 of which are too strong to be handled by fire departments.

The smoke from these fires clouds the sky, covering everything with a hazy, orange hue. Those suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer are at risk of extreme health complications due to thick smoke. William Wapachee, a 79-year-old from Namaska, states that the wildfires have become more and more frequent.

“Before, when we had fire, it was only in one place; now it seems to be a fire here, a fire there, fire everywhere,” he says.

Mandy Gull-Masty, the grand chief of the Cree Nation in Quebec, says that this is a first for the community.

“I’ve never seen that level of evacuation in Cree Nation, simultaneous communities all at once,” she says. “Never has that happened before.”

Although no one has died because of the fires, plenty of damage has been done. Because Indigenous communities rely on forests for food and other cultural activities, many of their resources have been cut off.


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