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Canada's Wildfires Are Displacing Its Indigenous People

By: Connor Wahng

In early July, a series of violent wildfires, fueled by dry conditions, wreaked havoc in northern Quebec. These fires devastated large sections of spruce forest, causing extensive damage to cabins and tourist camps. The catastrophe also disrupted transportation to remote Indigenous communities, severing their connection via the only paved road in the region—a 370-mile highway with limited or no cell reception.

Before evacuation orders were issued, local residents attempting to escape along the Billy Diamond Highway—named after the road—encountered a terrifying scene. Flames and smoke created an eerie darkness reminiscent of nighttime during the daytime hours.

"I honestly wasn't sure we'd make it out," admitted Joshua Iserhoff, a 45-year-old member of the Cree nation of Nemaska. He, along with his wife and two children, had to retreat and find an alternate escape route from the raging fires.

Since May, Canada has been ravaged by hundreds of wildfires, consuming over 47,000 square miles of forests—an area equivalent to the size of New York State. These blazes have displaced over 25,000 Indigenous citizens from regions spanning British Columbia to Nova Scotia, as reported by government authorities.

The impact on Indigenous communities has been particularly severe, as their close proximity to fire ignition points has led to devastating consequences. These communities heavily rely on forests for sustenance, and their dwellings are situated in remote areas that aren't prioritized for firefighting efforts due to their sparse population and limited structures.

These wildfires, a consequence of intensifying climate change, have etched a distressing chapter, setting new records for the vast landscapes they have devoured. Diane Amy Tanoush, a native of the Quebec region, captured a video showcasing Indigenous people from the settlement as they gathered their belongings, donned N95 masks, and embarked on a lengthy boat journey across a lake.

As she noted, "It's starting to get dark. This is our fifth time evacuating."

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