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Canadian indigenous communities ask Saskatchewan to do more to halt fires

by Alexander Quon, CBC News |

Leaders from Red Earth Cree Nation and Shoal Lake Cree Nation say the provincial government should mobilize more resources to battle forest fires in northern Saskatchewan.

"If the province does not put more resources into fighting the wildfires, our communities will suffer from its impacts for years to come," said Chief Marcel Head of Shoal Lake Cree Nation in a statement Monday.

Both Red Earth and Shoal Lake have issued evacuation orders for community members at highest risk from smoke.

Wildfires are currently burning in the region.

The Bell Fire near Hudson Bay has prompted Environment Canada to issue an air quality alert for Saskatoon and areas to the east and northeast of the city.

Approximately 440 people were evacuated Thursday from Shoal Lake Cree Nation to Prince Albert.

Red Earth Cree Nation issued a similar evacuation order for approximately 200 people in the community Monday. They'll be moved to Regina and Saskatoon.

Shoal Lake Chief Marcel Head said in his statement that the decision to evacuate was a last resort.

"It is a very traumatic ordeal for our people, but we need to keep the health, wellness, and safety of all our people front and center," he said.

"For the second time this summer, we are doing all what we possibly can to assure our people and to give them some measure of comfort in a stressful situation."

Evacuation efforts have been assisted by Prince Albert Grand Council's Saskatchewan First Nations emergency management, the Canadian Red Cross, federal and provincial emergency response measures agencies and support systems from the cities of Regina and Prince Albert.

Fire crews have been deployed to the combat the Bell Fire, which had grown to 115,000 acres as of Monday morning.

Three helicopters and tankers have also been assigned by the Saskatchewan Public Service Agency to assist.

Chief Marcel Head and Chief Fabian Head of the Red Earth Cree Nation both say more needs to be done.

"Given both the short-term and long-term threats of the wildfires, we urge the government of Saskatchewan to act, and to mobilize their available resources to enhance and expand the effort to extinguish the wildfires in our areas for the sake and safety of our people," said Chief Fabian Head in a statement.

Chief Marcel Head echoed that call, saying they are "deeply concerned by the threat of the wildfires to our territories, ancestral lands, and resources."