Graveyard flooded, houses shifted: Emotions high as cleanup continues on Kátł’odeeche First Nation | The Canadian News

Evacuation orders for Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche reserve have lifted, but as residents return to sort through the debris left behind, Kátł’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel says it’s hard to know where to begin.

The graveyards flooded, houses shifted and roads crumbled when the Hay River flooded into the community last week.

“It’s really emotional because there’s a lot of things that need to be replaced,” Martel said Wednesday.

For her, the damage to the graveyards hit especially hard.

Martel plans to sit down with her team and figure out how to protect that area from future floods.

“It’s really bad in there,” she said. “It’s a priority. I mean, you can build a wall around that, I don’t know, but we need to do something for the graveyards … It’s a historical place, right?”

Floodwaters eroded pavement on Kátł’odeeche First Nation. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

The First Nation began letting residents return to their homes Tuesday afternoon, but those who live in the Old Village are still displaced. There’s too much debris and damage to the road for them to access their homes.

Martel said her team hopes to assess those homes Wednesday or Thursday, once the area dries up a bit.

She’s been pleased to hear about government policy changes that will mean more flooding support for Kátł’odeeche. She met with N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod Tuesday and said she discussed the situation not only on Kátł’odeeche but also in Hay River and West Point First Nation.

Kátł’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel says residents are in recovery mode after last week’s flood. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Tough decisions ahead

As residents continue recovery efforts on the reserve, salvaging what they can and documenting the damage, Martel said they will need to have difficult conversations about how to mitigate future floods.

She said the First Nation now needs to engage with politicians and experts to talk about preventing future disasters.

In the past, she said, the river was dredged — an excavation process requiring heavy machinery — but that caused environmental issues. There are other measures that have been used in the past, such as setting off explosives to help break up the ice, but that hurt the environment too.

The Hay River flood last week damaged many homes on the Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

Martel said she has talked with McLeod and N.W.T. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Shane Thompson about whether to move certain homes out of low-lying areas, but worries about the impact that would have on the residents who live in those homes. Measures like that would also require entirely new developments, work that could take a long time.

“People feel comfortable in their homes. We can possibly [lift] the houses higher … rather than moving their home because I don’t feel that they would be comfortable to move to higher ground,” she added.

Martel plans to engage with elders and community members who remember the flood of 1963 to discuss flood mitigation.

“I’m going to give them some time to kind of settle, and get them together with the leadership and the volunteers and say, what can we do to take their advice,” she said.

Another view of a damaged building on the Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

In the short-term, the First Nation had a team of mental health workers come in on Wednesday to help unpack the emotional damage of the flood. The situation has been very hard for Old Village residents, since they haven’t been able to return home, she said.

As for herself, Martel said she is focusing on staying strong and communicating with her membership.

“I can’t leave things undone until I complete everything and everyone’s in their home and everyone’s safe,” she said. “That’s all I need. Then I’m going to start going to the politicians and saying, ‘This is what we need,’ and start building my community up.”

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