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Same old issues with solutions without consultation.

OTTAWA

The federal government has announced new measures to address emergency situations on reserves, but again they represent one more example of a paternalistic system.

"It's the age-old buzz word of the era: lack of consultation. The nation should have been consulted about where and how we want to be engaged in this whole process," said Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis.

Instead, an organizational chart for the federal Emergency Management Coordination Structure puts First Nations at the very bottom. "To be respectful to chiefs and councils, they should be at the top as an equal," he said.

Only days before the auditor general released a report stating that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada "had not taken sufficient steps to adequately manage those areas of emergency management support to First Nations on reserves," Minister Bernard Valcourt announced a new approach would involve agreements between the provinces and the federal government for the delivery of timely emergency services.

C7 1 In a news release, Aboriginal Affairs singled out the coordinated effort between the department and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, which "facilitated successful response and quick recovery efforts" to the flood-impacted Siksika, Tsuu T'ina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations.

But Alexis paints a different picture of that response. A flyover of the reserves by the Prime Minister was "painful," he said, when Stephen Harper should have been on the ground immediately.

"The success was thanks to National Chief Shawn Atleo and also our office of the AFN in calling upon the ministers of the province and federal government. We called them at the onset and demanded that they look after our communities. I feel that worked out fairly well in that there was relatively swift action and promises," said Alexis.

The result was a three-phase response to address the damage caused by the flooding, which resulted in thousands of First Nations members having been evacuated. In November, Siksika First Nation signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding with the Alberta government for a $93 million infusion to be used for flood recovery response and training of members. The province will recover as much of that funding as it can through the federal Disaster Recovery Program.

"However there are still gaps again and they need to be worked on," said Alexis, pointing to the Manitoba First Nations flood evacuees who have been without homes since 2011. "It's sad to see that because this should not be happening in a country such as Canada."

Following the auditor general's report, Aboriginal Affairs Canada announced in mid-December that the delivery of services for those evacuees would be fully transitioned from the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters to the Canadian Red Cross by Feb.1, 2014.

"Our government's priority is the health and safety of First Nations and that's why we have been working with the Canadian Red Cross to ensure evacuees continue to get the services and support they need until they can safely return to their home communities," said Valcourt in a news release.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson also pointed out that an annual budget of $19 million to deal with emergency response was wholly inadequate. Between the 2009 and 2013 fiscal years, the federal government spent $180 million on response and recovery.

AANDC announced it would create a "single-window" for First Nations to secure funding for emergency costs, including those previously funded under the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. The move is to eliminate overlap and provide First Nations and provinces and territories with improved access to emergency funding when needed.

Ferguson also criticized the department for not taking action to mitigate emergencies.

"Training is very lax," said Alexis, who is a former RCMP officer and former chief of the Alexis Sioux Nakota Nation. "Table top exercises are very slow--that are provided for the First Nations--and vastly underfunded. Table top exercises have to take place to train and educate your Nations to be prepared for any emergency. And I don't see enough of that happening."

He also says there is a lack of equipment on First Nations to adequately respond to emergencies.

Between 2009 and 2013 fiscal years, the federal government spent only $4 million on prevention and mitigation.

Alexis said the changes announced by AANDC still do not provide enough money for this aspect of emergencies on reserves.

"(Funding) is not drilling down enough to the Nations," he said. "In other words, in Alberta you're giving it to the provincial government to manage the program. But if you drill down, where is the funding to the Nations to be trained, to look after emergency preparedness themselves? They should be an absolute cog in the wheel at the top to help manage their emergency.

Ferguson also said that limited coordination existed between AANDC and Health Canada in a number of areas, including integrating pandemic plans into community emergency development plans.

By Shari Narine

Windspeaker Contributor
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Title Annotation:news; managing emergency management support to First Nation reserves
Author:Narine, Shari
Publication:Windspeaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Words:814
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