It’s been almost two years since an unprecedented spring flood wiped out parts of Kátł’odeeche First Nation, and some residents are still living in hotels and waiting for homes — a situation not helped, said the community’s chief, by a recent letter from the territorial government.

The community knew it would take time to rebuild but didn’t anticipate last summer’s devastating wildfire season, which burned 18 homes and five major buildings. 

April Martel, chief of Kátł’odeeche First Nation (KFN), said they are still trying to help flood victims almost two years later. She said the delay has been caused by improper home inspections and wildfires. 

“We still have a lot of work that needs to be done with the flood,” Martel said. “There are a lot of repairs, a lot of replacements.”

Woman in black shirt and glasses stands on rural road.
April Martel, the chief of Kátł’odeeche First Nation, said flood restoration has become a priority for her community again — now that the 2023 wildfires are in the rear view mirror. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

The May 2022 flooding destroyed homes, infrastructure and businesses — like the fire did, the following year. Martel said the fire put the process of dealing with the flooding on hold, but it’s become the community’s priority again. 

A confusing letter

Martel said residents received a letter from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) in early January stating that as of June 2, 2023 the territory had fulfilled its obligations to the community with regards to the flood and directed members to contact KFN about flood-related matters going forward. 

She said the letter caused a lot of confusion and she didn’t know it was going to be sent.

KFN is receiving funding from the Government of Canada for assessments, abatement, repairs, and replacements. The funding was being administered through MACA. 

But Martel said the First Nation wanted a more direct approach and in 2023 they started working with the federal government. She said the letter from MACA was sent in January, several months later, and the First Nation didn’t understand why.

She said the wording in the letter caused confusion in the community. People thought their flood-related files were being closed, when in fact they were still being handled by the First Nation and the federal government.

In an emailed statement, MACA spokesperson Jay Boast said the letter was to inform residents the department had “closed off files for funding expended up to June 2023,” which is when KFN assumed responsibility for the flood recovery program. 

“Since this time, KFN has been working directly with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada on the 2022 flood recovery project,” Boast wrote. 

Boast said the letter has no impact on the work KFN is doing with the federal government, and that MACA informed the community’s administration in January that closure letters would be sent to residents.

Lots of work to do

The community is still in the process of getting residents into new homes. Martel said there are homes that were not inspected properly, and some that sat empty through the year now have mould problems.

4 prefab homes sit in a field
Four new homes arrived in Kátł’odeeche on January 10, 2024. (CBC/Carla Ulrich)

Martel believes many of the homes prematurely passed inspections in 2022, and now they need to be reassessed so they can be declared unfit.

“You can’t close files,” she said. “You still have a lot of work to do,”

Martel wants MACA to be more understanding when communicating with KFN members.

“There’s people that have been going through trauma after trauma, and we need to work with them,” Martel said. “They have been displaced from their homes for almost two years.”

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