Out of the ashes: Ashcroft Indian Band and the Elephant Hill wildfire

Insights for public health responses to long-term evacuation

Source: iStock


Publication Summary

This case study produced 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 Ashcroft Indian Band following the Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017. It includes insight into the health and social impacts of the evacuation, as well as the role of public health to support long-term emergency planning and recovery.

This document is part of a three-part series called the Long-Term Evacuees Project, produced by the NCCPH. The goal of the project is to explore the long-term effects of evacuations due to natural disasters and associated public health responses. See below for links to the other documents in this series.

First Nations communities and evacuation

First Nations peoples are disproportionately affected by natural disasters. Repeated and extended evacuation from their communities has negative impacts on the health and well-being of First Nations peoples over the long term.

Beyond immediate emergency response measures, a better understanding is needed of public health’s two-pronged role in these cases: on one hand, to address the health and social impacts of natural disasters and, on the other, to support long-term emergency planning and recovery in a coordinated and culturally safe way.

Ashcroft Indian Band and the Elephant Hill wildfire Case Study

Based on first-person accounts from community members, this case study explores the process and impacts of evacuation on the Nlaka’pamux people of the Ashcroft Indian Band following the Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017.

The community felt unprepared for emergency response, having experienced administrative barriers to supports and a lack of continuity in health services. This resulted in high levels of confusion, stress and mistrust of health authorities in addition to other negative experiences: trauma, grief, loss, negative impacts on physical and mental health, increased substance use, inadequate housing and unhealthy environmental conditions.

Insights for public health responses 

Critical insights from this case study to inform public health responses include: 

  • Importance of focusing on First Nations’ identified needs 
  • Importance of addressing psychological well-being 
  • Importance of developing community-specific plans for emergency preparedness and recovery planning
  • When it comes to planning culturally safe and appropriate responses to evacuation due to natural disaster, meaningful relationships between public health and First Nations communities that pre-exist a natural disaster are key.  

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.

Use this resource to:

  1. Facilitate discussion about First Nations communities at risk of evacuation due to natural disaster and how to develop meaningful relationships with those communities.
  2. Identify emergency response and recovery plans currently in place for First Nations communities in your area and explore, with the community, the role of public health to support long-term recovery efforts.
  3. Develop a plan with the community for how public health can address the long-term health, social, environmental and cultural impacts of extended or repeated evacuations due to natural disaster.