Insights for public health responses to long-term evacuation
This case study by the National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCPH) in collaboration with Lilia Yumagulova, Darlene Yellow Old Woman-Munro, and Emily Dicken explores the evacuation of Siksika Nation following the Bow River flood in 2013. It includes insight into the health and social impacts of the evacuation and the role of public health to support long-term emergency planning and recovery.
FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITIES AND EVACUATION
First Nations peoples are at increased risk of being evacuated from their communities due to natural disasters. Existing inequities plus the impact of displacement in connection to land and community has negative health and social impacts on First Nations peoples over the long-term.
Understanding public health’s role to address and mitigate the negative impacts of natural disasters and emergency response processes needs to be rooted in the lived experience of disaster evacuation, which will vary across communities.
SIKSIKA NATION AND THE BOW RIVER FLOOD CASE STUDY
Based on first-person accounts from community members, this case study explores the process and impacts of evacuation on the Blackfoot people of Siksika Nation following the Bow River flood in 2013.
Reflecting on the evacuation experience, community members reported feelings of shock, uncertainty, confusion and isolation.
Moreover, the physical and mental health of evacuees was directly impacted by factors such as:
- Poor communication;
- Inequitable access to and distribution of resources; and
- Service delivery that was not culturally relevant or safe directly.
Some circumstances were mitigated through community-based practices of sharing and supporting each other, known as the “Siksika way of life.”
INSIGHTS FOR PUBLIC HEALTH RESPONSES
Critical insights from this case study to inform public health responses include:
- Importance of addressing factors in the physical environment that affect health; this includes housing (both temporary and permanent) as well the health of natural environments, such as land and waters; and
- Importance of using reconciliation to guide relationship-building, coordinated emergency response and evacuation procedures; this includes First Nation-led approaches that are culturally safe and responsive.
Given that the experiences of one First Nation cannot be assumed to be applicable to another, community-specific factors and context are necessary to inform appropriate disaster responses in the short and long term.