When overland flooding forced them to be evacuated from their homes, residents of Lake St. Martin First Nation figured it would be a few months at most before they were allowed to return.
But after spending a year and a half living in temporary housing in Winnipeg — and with much of their community still under water — those same residents are wondering if they’ll ever return to their community again.
The 18-month ordeal has been particularly tough on the teens and children who were displaced when Lake St. Martin flooded in May 2011. That’s why Red River College stepped forward to send 12 of those students and two teachers to We Day — a global “youth empowerment” event that has since inspired the teens to become agents of social change for their own community.
“Too frequently we hear of children and individuals losing hope, or who feel powerless, and we have seen this with some of the evacuees of Lake St. Martin,” says RRC President Stephanie Forsyth.
“I wanted to reach out to the youth of this community — to afford them the opportunity to hear We Day’s very powerful message of hope, and the role they might play in bringing about change.”
Susan Ryle-Munroe, a teacher from Lake St. Martin, says the students benefitted greatly from attending We Day Manitoba, which included presentations from Nobel laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, Free the Children ambassador Spencer West, MLA Kevin Chief (Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities) and Justice Murray Sinclair, Manitoba’s first Aboriginal judge.
In the days following the event, they’ve created posters detailing their We Day experiences, and discussed means by which they can affect change in their own community — by raising awareness, collecting funds, and appointing a junior chief and council to serve as a voice for all students.
“We’re going to have a mini We Day,” she said. “This time, we’ll be the initiators.”
Currently, the students and their families are staying in either hotels or temporary housing at locations throughout the city. Ryle-Monroe says many of them miss life in Lake St. Martin, noting they’ve found it hard to adjust to the noise and cramped conditions of Winnipeg. They also miss living in close proximity to their family and friends, she says.
“When we got out here I thought it would be temporary, not permanent,” says Kassidy Pelletier, 15. “It’s starting to sink in and I’m starting to get used to it, but I still wish we could go home.”
Forsyth met with the Lake St. Martin students last week at the temporary school that had been established for them on Ness Avenue. (The school was closed days later due to safety concerns). It’s her hope the discussion will lead to an ongoing partnership with Red River College.
Click here for more information on We Day events throughout Canada.