By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Almost a third of the 23 wildfires of note categorized by the Alberta government impact First Nations and Metis communities in Alberta.
The data below was taken from the Alberta government’s wildfire dashboard and media reports. Indigenous Services Canada hasn’t provided an update on the wildfires’ impact since May 10.
Early in the morning of May 16, the Alberta government issued an evacuation order for Peavine Metis Settlement, which has a 65,000-hectare fire burning out of control nearby. Almost 1,000 people live in the settlement located near High Prairie. Neighbouring Gift Lake Metis Settlement isn’t under evacuation order.
A 69,074-hectare wildfire is classified as out of control near East Prairie Metis Settlement, with 300 residents evacuated last week after the fire destroyed 27 homes and part of a bridge. Sucker Creek First Nation, 38 km northeast of the East Prairie settlement, remains on alert.
Members of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, where 1,600 people were evacuated to Edmonton, Valleyview and Grande Prairie last week, remain under evacuation order. An out-of-control wildfire of 3,765 hectares is burning three km southeast of the reserve. As of May 15, members are being instructed to evacuate to the Bonnetts Energy Centre in Grande Prairie.
Valleyview, where many Sturgeon Lake band members live, is under evacuation order, with residents told to go to Whitecourt, APTN News reported.
An out of control wildfire of 1,036 hectares is burning 24 km northeast of Whitefish Lake First Nation #459, which saw 740 evacuations. That evacuation order ended on May 12.
Near the O’Chiese First Nation reserve is a 67,043-hectare wildfire classified as out of control. Last week, 77 residents were evacuated from a portion of the reserve.
There’s still a 32,964-hectare out-of-control wildfire in Fox Lake, a community on the Little Red River Cree Nation reserve. All of the community’s 3,468 residents were evacuated, with the nearby John D’or Prairie reserve hosting about 1,000 of them.
Members of Dene Tha’ First Nation community of Chateh, who were ordered to evacuate on May 13, remain under evacuation order due to a wildfire west of Chateh, one of three communities on the reserve, which is moving northeast towards the Dene Tha’ reserve.
Evacuees are asked to register at the administration office in Bushe River.
Chief Wilfred Hooka-Nooza told CBC News on May 14 that 772 people have been evacuated, with most of them staying at the gymnasium in Spirit of the North Community School in nearby High Level.
Last year, 1,100 people had to evacuate from Chateh due to flooding.
As of May 15, the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta is offering free virtual counselling for those traumatized by the wildfires, with one to three sessions offered to those in need.
To register, contact the association at [email protected], or by phone at 780-424-0294.
Additionally, individuals who have been affected by wildfire or who have been evacuated can access health services through provincial health care systems or access virtual supports such as 24/7 mental health support through the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or through online chat at hopeforwellness.ca. In Alberta, additional mental wellness supports are also available via the Alberta Indigenous Virtual Care Clinic at 1-888-342-4822.