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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Blazing concerns

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Apr 19, 2024

As Goose Break approaches, I share the heartbreak of my fellow Crees who won’t have a campsite to return to this season. I’m also holding my breath, hoping this forest fire season won’t be as bad as the last.

The Cree Nation Government established a relief fund for those affected by the 2023 wildfires. While it’s helpful to our nation, it’d be nice to see more tangible actions from our leadership regarding their commitment to the issue and its consequences on our livelihood. With the mild winter we just had, I think it’s important to keep holding governments and industries accountable for their contribution to climate change.

Climate change is widely recognized as contributing to wildfires in Canada, as it can exacerbate conditions that lead to more frequent and intense fires. Higher temperatures, drought conditions, increased lightning, insect infestations, thawing permafrost and longer fire seasons are ways climate change influences wildfires. 

I might yap a lot about it, but climate change obviously isn’t going to stop any time soon, especially since world leaders don’t seem to do much about it despite constant warnings from the scientific community. Our people have always been stewards of this land; in my opinion, stewardship comes with responsibilities. As long as we neglect the issue, I will keep on discussing it.

Summer is very close, and I haven’t seen much information about specific questions raised by community members since last year’s ordeal. Will we receive better compensation for evacuations? Will the air quality index be an evacuation factor for the entire population? 

The air quality index frequently reached levels between 600 and 750 last year in my community. People can’t keep on breathing that every year, and the poor quality of housing makes it nearly impossible not to be exposed to smoke even indoors. 

Is Quebec contributing more funds to emergency response and relief to our entities? Will the lists of vulnerable people take into account more social determinants of health to assess the vulnerability of community members? I wasn’t on the list for my community even though I live alone with two diagnosed disabilities and no transportation, so it ended up costing me a lot to evacuate.

While wildfires are a natural part of many ecosystems, climate change is exacerbating wildfire risks in Canada and worldwide by creating conditions more conducive to fire ignition and spread. There are proactive ways to fight climate change, and there are rigorous stances to take against it, so I find it particularly frustrating to see people constantly fearmongering about the Rapture or Jesus every time natural disasters occur. 

It’s frustrating because it is such a passive response to the destruction of a land that’s been so generous to us since time immemorial. Even if we’re not responsible for this environmental crisis, it doesn’t mean we should just stand there and witness it without at least trying to do something about it.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.